I’ve got to tell you, I’m pretty darn excited right now. Why? I’m typing this to you from 30,000 feet on a Delta flight from Cincinnati to Las Vegas (for VMware Partner Exchange). And why is that so special? Because, as the title suggests, I’m typing this on my VDI image which resides hundreds of miles away and thousands of feet below me.
Delta has a fairly new service from gogo called “gogo inflight … wi-fi with wings.” This is my first time using the service because the past few flights I’ve taken, I’ve either not had the need to connect or the aircraft I happened to be on did not yet have the service. But this time I have some work to do (i.e. my next “confessions” article for VSM), so I figured I’d give it a whirl. And, being a gluten for punishment, I decided to see if I could push the limits of PCoIP. After a quick sign up form (gogo isn’t free) and firing off a VPN connection back to my home office, I launched the View client and crossed my fingers.
And I can tell you that I am thoroughly impressed! The Windows are snappy, flash is decent and low-end multimedia is adequate. I was watching a youtube.com video with full sound and, while the picture was a little blurry and sound/video sync was slightly off, it was totally watchable. And furthermore, it didn’t cripple my session. Not bad, considering my latency is between 150ms and 250ms, with an estimated average about 200ms.
Is this a glimpse of things to come? Right now it may seem pretty far fetched. After all, the process to connect to my desktop image was fairly painful. I had to …
- Boot into my local OS
- Connect to the gogo inflight wireless access point
- Launch my Firefox browser and walk through the gogo signup form
- Dig trough my briefcase for my wallet and pay for the service
- Fire off my OpenVPN client to my home VPN server
- Launch the VMware View Client
Not exactly what I’d call a seamless user experience. And I believe that conquering this experience – that is, the mobile user – will be the coup de grace for traditional desktop infrastructure. Until then, virtual desktop infrastructure will certainly happen in pockets, but massive, wide scale adoption will continue to elude us. So what has to happen here? In my mind, I see the following things need to happen …
True ubiquity of wireless Internet
This means two things. First, the Internet has to be everywhere at all times. I’m a true mobile user and I need to know that no matter where I am – whether it be on a puddle jumper, or in a remote country hotel – that when I power on my laptop, I will have access.
And second, this also means the connection to the Internet has to be completely integrated and transparent. I don’t want to have to dig for my credit card every time. But even more than that, I want the connection to happen for me automatically, in the background, as part of the boot processes. My software client should auto detect the available wireless networks, connect, and debit my account. Will I have a single unified account that works across all providers? Or will I have multiple accounts that my software client will handle? Or will it be a single, wireless / satellite provider that can reach me anytime, anywhere? I don’t know and I don’t really care. The point is, I don’t want to deal with it. I want to press power and, after a short boot (maybe even zero boot?), have access. Period.
A purpose built Thin OS
Booting into a local OS just to launch a client and connect to a remote OS just isn’t going to cut it. The boot process needs to be fast and do nothing more than present me with a login GUI. If I’m remote, the VPN connection (and any necessary login parameters) need to be part of the login process. There’s no need for a full blown local OS if our goal is to do little more than connect to our primary desktop environment. Sure, us hardcore tech weenies will almost always want some sort of backdoor access to the local OS. But for 99% of the users out there, they don’t care and just want a seamless desktop experience. In fact, if done correctly, they shouldn’t even know there is a local OS and their desktop is actually running in a remote datacenter.
Does this actually exist yet? Sort of. ThinClients typically deliver this kind of user experience. But for the most part, ThinClients aren’t mobile devices. I’ve seen a ThinClient laptop model before, but I don’t know a single person actually using one. I’ve actually seen for more cases of customers converting PCs and laptops to ThinClients. Theron Conrey gives us a great example with his blog post VMware View Linux Live CD How-to. And there are enterprise solutions for converting PCs to ThinClients from both Wyse and DevonIT. So, we’re pretty darn close on this front, but still not 100%.
A rich user experience in low bandwidth, high latency environments
Like I stated earlier, my current PCoIP experience is pretty darn impressive. It is, by far, the best experience I’ve witnessed to a remote desktop. But, I’m not sure the average in-flight user would be ecstatic about it. Sure, all things considered, you can’t beat it. But I recognize all the variables working against me right now. The typical user will not know or even care. They just want it to work. The good news is that PCoIP will continue to improve and brings the promise of delivering a rich user experience, whether at 30k feet of a single switch port away.
So, I ask again, is this a true glimpse of the not-too-distant future? Ten years ago, I was the only one of my friends and family to have a cell phone. Five years ago, mainstream virtualization in the datacenter was laughed at. And a few short months ago, typing this blog post on my VMware View image was impossible. So, you tell me.