At Westminster College, we’re continuing down the road toward virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) nirvana, and we’ve hit a point at which we need to make a decision that will directly impact the user. The current decision point lies around the level of support that we’ll provide for multimedia service including Flash.

Frankly, we don’t really have a lot of choice in the matter. We have to provide some kind of support for multimedia and for Flash in particular. After all, we’re using our VDI infrastructure to replace full PCs in computer labs and targeting staff desktops for users who don’t use or need laptops. To not provide support for common services that students and staff expect to work would simply doom the project to failure. Students expect sites like YouTube to just work, and a number of staff have come to enjoy listening to Internet-based radio stations based on both Flash and Windows Media. While providing radio to staff is obviously not a mandate, with the amount of time and dedication we get from people, it’s something we really want to do.

At the same time, in order to as closely mimic the full desktop experience as possible, we are also looking for a solution that expertly handles USB redirection. If a user plugs in a USB drive or Webcam, ideally we’d like to see that device connection redirected to the server session. It’s pretty well known that RDP isn’t exactly ideal when it comes to handling real-time audio and video and USB connectivity. From choppy video to out-of-sync audio, it’s far from an ideal end user experience.

On the VDI side, we’ve settled on VMware View as the solution of choice. This “VDI 3” product provides some support for Wyse’s TCX multimedia extensions. We’re still investigating exactly what is included in View’s TCX suite, but that’s a different discussion. Until recently, Flash was (sort of) supported with TCX.

I’ve learned recently that VMware View and TCX will provide full support for Flash and for a number of multimedia codecs; I also understand that TCX has very good USB redirection capabilities.

But then came along HP Remote Graphics Software (RGS). My limited understanding thus far of RGS leads me to believe that it is a complete replacement for the RDP stack and uses its own compression algorithms to achieve its goals. By replacing RDP, RDP’s limitations go away in favor of RGS, which is supposed to deliver desktop-like multimedia performance for all codecs plus Flash video. From what I’ve read, it also appears to support USB redirection. I just don’t know if RGS provides broad USB device support, or if only certain devices are supported.

I’ve also recently learned about Pano Logic’s Pano box, which is supposed to be a processless, RAMless, OSless little device that sits on a user’s desk in place of a computer or thin client. Pano’s solution uses very, very little power, requires no software updates, and seems like a nice solution.

Comparing the three without having the full VDI infrastructure up and running is very difficult, so I’m turning to you, our TechRepublic readers, to share your real-world experiences and thoughts regarding each of these three solutions. (I’m especially interested in hearing your experiences with Pano.) If there’s something better out there that I haven’t listed, please share your thoughts on that, too. I’d love to hear about how each solution has worked with regard to multimedia and Flash and USB redirection. Cost is also a factor. I look forward to hearing your feedback!