The Many Faces of Desktop Virtualization

Arthur Cole

Ask around and you're likely to get any number of IT experts to say that desktop virtualization will come on strong in 2010. But if you were to pose the question: "What form will it take?" the opinions become quite diverse.

Whether you're talking about desktop virtualization as something distinct from Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), or any number of PC-sharing or thin client technologies, the range of virtual desktop options is growing more diverse by the minute.

Even the top vendors vying for market dominance admit there will not be a single answer to fit all enterprise needs. Mike Vizard at our CTOEdge site just posted a telling interview with Harry Labana, CTO of desktop virtualization at Citrix, in which he states that concepts like VDI are only one aspect of overall desktop virtualization. He said that depending on user needs, there could be a range of virtual applications, virtual profiles or full virtual desktops at their disposal. But regardless of how it appears to users, a properly engineered system should reduce some of the pressure on network resources in that the desktop and applications can now be centralized, which removes much of the application data that is currently being transferred, leaving only data related to screen changes and mouse clicks.

This kind of diversity is reflected in the way some of the major platform providers are tweaking their systems as they vie for dominance in a largely untapped market. Citrix, for one, is said to be toying with five different flavors of its Xen Desktop4, while Parallels is busy developing a platform that eschews the traditional hypervisor altogether.

At CES, meanwhile, NComputing was busy touting the latest version of its platform, which has multiple users tapping into a single PC. While some would argue that it doesn't fit the classic definition of a virtual desktop in that it doesn't centralize images or user profiles, it's hard to argue against a system that can feed nine users off a single PC, with high-def video no less, for less than $100.

Desktop virtualization is also putting ideas in some folks' minds that it could be used to break the stranglehold that Microsoft has held over the operating system for so long. Witness IBM's support of a company called Virtual Bridges that is zeroing in on a platform that would provide dual WIndows/Linux sessions. Virtual Bridges and IBM are partners in a project that is developing a Linux-based system that would undercut Windows 7 on price.

It's only logical that since the rest of the enterprise is undergoing the IT equivalent of a crash diet that desktop infrastructure should tighten its belt as well. There are certainly competitive reasons for bringing the cost-per-user down a few pegs, simply as a prudent business step rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the economic downturn.

The desktop represents that last frontier for virtualization, so it seems inevitable that it will face a restructuring of one form or another this year.

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