Tough Choices on the Virtual Desktop Horizon

Arthur Cole

Is this really the right time to deploy a virtual desktop architecture?

That seems to be the question of the year as enterprises struggle with the twin goals of reducing IT overhead while increasing data capacity and processing capability.

Unfortunately, there are persuasive arguments both for and against virtual desktops, which means the answer will vary for each organization and will likely depend on a range of criteria that could be quite difficult to quantify. In fact, the sheer range of issues and options surrounding deployment only becomes apparent once you've made the decision to move ahead.

For example, says InformationWeek's Joseph Brown, do you want a traditional in-house approach, or are you ready to jump directly to a hosted model? The hosted model will likely save you even more money, but it introduces a wide range of complications regarding access and control of both data and applications, not to mention device protection and overall security. Either way, you'll need to take a careful look at how your new desktop infrastructure will satisfy current and future service-level and architectural requirements.

It's also important to note the downsides to virtual desktops, says IDG's Ann Bednarz. For one thing, changes in desktop infrastructure will invariably require changes in storage, server and networking architectures. In general, centralized desktop images will require more of what you already have: more storage, more throughput, faster processing. Scrimping on these factors can reduce the overall effectiveness of the virtual desktop, hampering its ROI.

There are also some basic laws of physics inhibiting virtual desktop performance, said J. Tyler Rohrer on For one thing, the speed of light is fast, but finite. So the more you separate users from operating systems, applications and data, the more performance will lag. There are also limits to the number of virtual images per CPU core, virtual disks per LUN, and a host of other factors. And since it's not likely that users will suddenly change their behavior in a virtual environment, it's crucial that you have a crystal clear monitoring system in place so you know exactly what and how enterprise resources are being used.

And yet, if enabled properly, virtual desktops could propel the enterprise directly into the 21st century with a vastly re-imagined working environment that more closely matches the astounding advances taking place in the wider digital universe. As CXO Today's Sanjay Deshmukh points out, desktop infrastructure represents that last of the old static architectures that have given way to dynamic, flexible environments. Only by virtualizing this last link in the chain will you be able to take full advantage of all the investment in virtual and cloud technology driving the industry.

In the end, virtual desktop deployment rests on the same basic questions that have plagued every other IT advancement over the years: "Can we afford to?" "Can we afford not to?" So at least on a fundamental level, there is comfort in knowing that we've been here before.

It's only when you get down to specifics does the realization dawn that this is a major decision with a large number of factors to consider and a wide range of serious consequences.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 8, 2010 8:31 AM Daniel Feller Daniel Feller  says:

There are a lot of big questions with virtual desktops, but you have to look at virtual desktops as not a single option, but a multitude of options.  In essence, you need to determine if it is better to have the user and the virtual desktop separate by great distances or located together. These are two of the main virtual desktop options. Once you answer that question, you can further drill down based on user requirements. 

I believe it all comes down to options. Simply thinking that desktop virtualization means desktops in the data center and users wherever is limited thinking. There are so many more options.


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