Desktop virtualization represents nothing less than a complete reworking of your enterprise infrastructure, with new servers, clients and umpteen new points of failure to worry about in between. You'll also be faced with user grumblings, if not outright revolt, when the realization comes that local resources are no more. And you're likely to undergo a painful and complicated transition period where nothing will seem to go right.
And in the end, you could wind up with a) a total failure; or b) and unbelievably fast and flexible network infrastructure that saves your organization millions a year in capital and operational costs.
Thin-client computing, desktop virtualization, whatever you want to call it, is set to make a run at the enterprise in 2009. All the top platform providers have embraced the technology, both as a means to leverage their existing investments in virtualization and to tap into the growing green movement in the data center.
The latest research estimates that establishing a virtual desktop regime runs about $860 per user, not including network upgrades, which may or may not be necessary depending on the state of your current network. That's still less than most business-class PCs, plus you get the added benefit of lower maintenance, easier software upgrades and greater resistance to viruses and hackers.
Dell is the most recent entrant, adding a thin-client version to the OptiPlex line. The move was made in conjunction with three other new energy-conscious OptiPlex machines designed to cut power consumption by up to 43 percent. The OptiPlex FX160 thin client is the least expensive member of the family, coming in at $399, offering full support for embedded and/or streamed applications. The company also updated its Flexible Computing Solutions package with support for on-demand streaming and Virtual Remote Desktop capability.
HP upped its stake in the field with a thin-client/blade workstation combination aimed at 3D graphics and data-intensive environments. The gt7725 thin client is based on the 2.3 GHz AMD Turion dual-core processor with an integrated RS780G (the former ATI Radeon HD 3200) graphics engine. It supports up to four displays with resolution up to 2560 x 1600 pixels. Initially available with the Linux-based ThinPro OS, subsequent versions will support Windows Embedded Standard 2009. The xw2x220c supports two workstations in a single half-height blade, and can be configured with one or two Xeon processors and a dedicated Nvidia FX 770M graphics card.
Management infrastructure will also be a crucial component in virtual desktop environments. eG Innovations and LeoStream have teamed up to combine their respective monitoring and connection broker software to form an integrated management system to help ensure steady access to enterprise applications. The package combines management of virtual hosts and guests with the ability to regulate access to user resources such as desktops, Terminal Server sessions and streamed applications.
Is it all worth it? If done right, the front office will certainly think so. And the end users? Change is always difficult, but that old saying about rolling with the punches is probably appropriate here. Do thin clients perform as well as PCs? No, but they still get the job done. And these days, a solution that saves serious green will carry a lot of weight, even if it's not optimal.