Despite a number of high-profile installations, it's fair to say that desktop virtualization has yet to break into the mainstream. And yet, proponents argue that the next big wave is right around the corner, and it's called Windows 7.
The thinking goes that as enterprises across the globe confront the next round in their PC refresh cycles, the desire to dump Vista in favor of the more elegant Windows 7 will run strong. And when the final cost comparisons are made, some form of alternative desktop infrastructure -- whether it's a simple thin client, a hosted service or a full VDI platform -- will be too hard to resist.
You can see that strategy in some of the new virtual desktop platforms coming out. VMware's new Workstation 7.1 has made a particular effort to play nicely with Windows 7, despite its ongoing rivalry with Microsoft over all things virtual. The company has built in tighter integration with the OS, with the ability to launch virtual apps right from the W7 task bar and support for hardware acceleration for the OpenGL 2.1 graphics format.
Even the Mac crowd will have an easier time bringing Windows 7 into virtual environments with Parallels' latest upgrade kit. Called, naturally enough, Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7, the system overcomes many of the hassles of migrating from Vista and XP, namely the need for a complete installation from scratch. It also maintains compatibility with applications that aren't friendly with W7 by running virtualized versions of the earlier operating systems.
Software compatibility is always a key factor in any technology upgrade. However, there are those who argue that even Windows 7 may not be enough for desktop virtualization to hit the big time. As The Burton Group's Chris Wolf explains it to CIO, the main detriment to all of the platforms available today is lack of scale. Unless and until someone is ready to mount an enterprise-wide conversion, he said, all deployments will be relegated to the department level, meaning the industry will continue to limp along in fits and starts for the time being.
It's also important to note that virtual desktops won't have that much of an impact on capital budgets, says Artemis Technology's Elias Khnaser. That's not such a bad thing, considering CapEx represents only about 20 percent of the total PC cost. But it does mean that basing a deployment on hardware refresh cycles is not necessarily the best strategy. A better approach would be to identify the desktop infrastructures that would most benefit from virtualization and go from there. After all, the operational benefits are the real prize here.
Having said all that, it seems obvious that many enterprise workers will be seeing something other than a full-blown PC on their desks in the near future. The virtual desktop will see its share of starts and stops over the next few years, but the full lifecycle cost savings will be too great for the front office to ignore.