Summary:

Rackspace has added virtual desktops to its collection of cloud services, a move that could prove very lucrative as the worlds of cloud computing and next-generation mobile devices converge. The new offering, called Hosted Virtual Desktop, pairs Citrix’s XenApp and XenDesktop products with Rackspace infrastructure.

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Rackspace has added virtual desktops to its collection of cloud services, a move that could prove very lucrative as the worlds of cloud computing and next-generation mobile devices converge. The new offering, called Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD), pairs Citrix’s XenApp and XenDesktop products with Rackspace’s support and just about every piece of its cloud infrastructure.

The timing couldn’t be any better to roll out the virtual desktop offering, as Gartner predicts a surge in adoption over the next couple years that coincides with measured decreases in PC sales. According to Chris Zagorski, director of enterprise product development at Rackspace, it looks as if companies that didn’t refresh their PCs during the recession might opt for virtual desktops when the next refresh cycle comes along, especially given the proliferation of tablets. A growing number of employees across sectors are using iPads and similar devices for work because they’re easily portable, and virtual desktops make it easier for companies to sanction such usage because all the data from those sessions is stored securely in the cloud, not locally. He tells of another Rackspace executive who travels with only his iPad and relies on a virtual desktop for accessing business applications.

Zagorski also shared the example of a pilot customer that was struggling with rolling out its own virtual desktop infrastructure. He said Rackspace got the customer up and running with 8,000 virtual desktops in about three weeks, and that the customer has plans to host 40,000 virtual desktops with Rackspace.

The HVD product uses Rackspace’s RackConnect feature, which lets customers host their virtual desktops in a hybrid environment of dedicated Rackspace servers and shared Rackspace Cloud servers. Via partnerships with Akamai and Riverbed, Zagorski says Rackspace solved the network latency issue that has a tendency to plague virtual desktop efforts, especially when users are far away from the host data center. Zsgorski added that Rackspace designed its storage system for hosted virtual desktops to overcome problems associated with “bootstorming,” which is when many users log into their desktops at once and overwhelm the disks that have to load those stored images.

Although Rackspace now only offers Citrix virtual-desktop software, Zagorski said VMware and Microsoft products could be options if customer demand is high enough. Customers handle the management and provisioning of their virtual desktops, and are billed monthly based on the specifications of their deployment.

With its managed hosting and cloud computing offerings, Rackspace has contributed to what many believe will be a sharp decline in server sales, so we’ll see if, as Zagorski says, “this is the beginning of the end of the traditional PC era,” too.

We’ll be learning a lot more about Rackspace’s $100-million-plus cloud business and vision at Structure 2011, coming up June 22-23 in San Francisco, where Rackspace Cloud President Lew Moorman will be on stage discussing his company’s role in this fast-evolving industry.

Image courtesy of Flickr user ChrisDag.

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