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As the sour economy pushes more companies into the arms of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) for cost cutting, the vendor community is eagerly wiping out obstacles to adoption by broadening the appeal of desktops as a service for more users, more types of applications and media.

This became very clear this week with a flurry of announcements that package the various parts of VDI into bundled solutions, focus on the need to make rich applications and media perform well, and expand the types of endpoints that can be on the receiving end of VDI.

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) expanded its thin-client portfolio with new offerings designed to extend virtualization across the enterprise, while providing a more secure and reliable user experience. The solutions bundle software from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and VMware (NYSE:VMW) along with HP's own acceleration and performance software, as well as three thin client hardware options.

I can hardly wait for HP to combine the hardware and software on the server side, too. I have no knowledge that HP is working up VDI appliances that could join the hardware configurations on the client side. But it sure makes a lot of sense.

Seriously, there are few companies in better position to bring VDI to the globe, given what technologies they gain with Mercury and Opsware, along with internal development ... Oh, and there's EDS to make VDI hosting a service in itself. Look for a grand push from HP into this enterprise productivity solutions area.

Leading the pack in this latest round of VDI enhancements are the three thin clients -- the HP gt7720 Performance Series, and the HP t5730w and t5630w Flexible Series. These offer new rich multimedia deployment and management functionality -- rich Internet applications (RIA), Flash, and streaming media support -- that enhance the Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard.

The Palo Alto, Calif. company also announced several other new features:

The thin clients feature Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, Windows Media Player 11 and the ability to run applications locally; they also include Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol 6.1 , which enables devices to connect and take advantage of the latest security and enterprise management technologies from Windows Server 2008.

RDP Enhancements multimedia and USB redirection enable users to easily run web applications, videos and other files within a virtual desktop environment, while avoiding frame skipping and audio or video synchronization issues. The software downloads the processing directly to the thin client, creating an enhanced multimedia experience while lowering the load on the server, which results in increased server scalability.

This also creates a near-desktop experience for VMware View environments, including support for the latest VMware View Manager 3 broker with no need for additional employee training. Users simply log in on the thin client to take advantage of its multimedia features, such as training videos, and USB device support.

HP and VMware are also working together to enable VMware View Manager’s universal access feature to leverage RGS for remote desktop sessions.

RGS is designed for customers requiring secure, high-performance, collaborative remote desktop access to advanced multimedia streaming and workstation-class applications. The software includes expanded, real-time collaboration features to allow multiple workers from remote locations to see and share content-rich visualizations, including 2-D design, 3-D solid modeling, rendering, simulation, full-motion video, heavy flash animation and intense Web 2.0 pages.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the technology being used in these VDI bundles originated with secure CAD/CAM virtual workstation implementations, where graphics and speed are essential. If it works for developers in high-security areas, it should work for bringing ERP apps and help desk apps to the masses of workers who don't need a full PC on every desktop. They just need an interactive window into the apps and data.

Expected to be available in early May, the new thin clients will be priced from $499 to $799. More information is available through HP or authorized resellers or from http://www.hp.com/go/virtualization. I would expect that EDS is going to have some packages that drive the total cost down even more.

Research and editorial assistance by Carlton Vogt.

Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.

Source: HP Perfectly Positioned to Bring Virtual Desktop Infrastructure to the World