Traffic management specialist Zeus has jumped into the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) business with an in-line connection broker. The product will provide secure access to a pool of remote desktops as well as logging their connections.

Promoted by VMware but usable with any virtualising system, VDI is a rival to Citrix and Windows Terminal Server in that it runs your desktop remotely, and you access it through a thin client device. The difference is that where Citrix runs all its clients on one multi-user shared server, VDI gives each user their own virtual PC.

"It's the next generation of thin client, especially for things such as call centre applications" claimed Zeus product manager Owen Garrett. He said that VDI's advantages over Citrix include stability, because users can't affect each other's PCs, and you can run any app, even those that don't work on a shared server.

"The problem with the VMware approach is that the user needs to know the address of the remote desktop – there's no intermediate authority, only the Windows login screen, so it can be tricky to manage," he added.

Connection brokers can be used to allocate desktops to users, but most try to avoid being a bottleneck or potential point of failure by being out-of-band, with the user then connecting direct to the desktop server.

"Zeus's idea was to put its virtual desktop broker (VBD) in the path – it adds latency and scalability issues, but we've been building traffic managers for years so we know how to deal with those," Garrett said. "It enables us to solve extra problems, especially security, because now the user can't go direct to the desktop."

He said it is also possible to write server-side rules, for example to control which desktops a user can access. If users lose their network conection, they can be reconnected to their sessions later, he added.

Available as software to run on Linux or as an appliance, the Zeus VDB costs $120 (£60) per concurrent user and bypasses the need for Citrix altogether, instead using RDP to access VMware-hosted desktops.

Critics of VDI say that it can cost more in hardware than equivalent Citrix or client PC approaches, but Garrett said that VDI's main rationale "isn't to cut cost, it's to reduce risk – for example, you have all your desktops in one place, backed up to a SAN."

He claimed it can also help with regulatory compliance, in that you can remote a desktop to anywhere – the call centre agents could be in India, say, but the data never leaves Europe.

Zeus has already signed up Dell, which will sell VDB as part of its Virtual Desktop Solution. "The Zeus ZXTM VDB connection broker provides Dell with a scaleable solution for secure multi-entry point connections to virtual desktops," said Nigel Goodwin, Dell Europe's virtualisation and consolidation practice lead.