Taking Desktop Virtualization Mainstream

Margaret Lewis

The availability of Windows 7 is exactly the kind of catalyst desktop virtualization has been waiting for. It provides businesses of all sizes, as well as consumers, an excellent opportunity to upgrade from Windows Vista or Windows XP to Windows 7 and to seamlessly adopt desktop virtualization.

Just as the choices in desktop devices are booming, a variety of desktop virtualization solutions are available from leading providers like Citrix, VMware and Microsoft. However, like any emerging technology, desktop virtualization must meet the needs of both the business and its users.


Server virtualization is now a well-established technology that is becoming widely adopted as a data center practice. It can bring capital and operations savings, helping enterprises big and small to reduce the number of servers and the associated costs in infrastructure, management, power and cooling and floor space. By contrast, desktop virtualization is still in its infancy. However, desktop virtualization has the potential to deliver similar types of  savings through opportunities related to centralized management and support of end user applications, reduced software licensing costs, deployment of less expensive and more energy-efficient clients devices, and by helping to extend the life of PCs and laptops.

Over the years, desktop virtualization has faced barriers to adoption, some financial, some technical and some cultural. On the financial side, desktop virtualization often required a more extensive infrastructure overhaul than many businesses wanted to do. On the technical side, poor application performance and a lackluster user experience compared to a full-function PC or laptop raised productivity issues. On the cultural side, neither users nor IT departments embraced desktop virtualization. Users have traditionally opposed giving up their full-function PCs and laptops where they can run and store both work and personal applications for a more tightly controlled (and often rumored poorer performing) virtualized environment. IT departments, having a difficult enough time just keeping the current environment going, are often reluctant to take on a time-consuming, enterprise-wide rollout that will require new ways of doing things and is likely to be unpopular with employees.

Overcoming Barriers to Mainstream Desktop Virtualization

Desktop virtualization has seen successful adoption in mainly single-application environments that do not require highly graphical interfaces, typically those used by task workers in call centers and health care facilities or in environments where securing data on the server is a key requirement, such the financial sector, government agencies and educational facilities. Knowledge workers who leverage intuitive graphical interfaces and variety of productivity applications for daily work as well as those who manipulate large image files such as in computer-aided design or digital content creation, or even the gaming and entertainment user at home, have not been considered targets for desktop virtualization. Getting these users on board with a technology that meets their needs is essential to widespread adoption and the mainstream acceptance of desktop virtualization. How do we deliver the speed and richness of the full-function PC to desktop virtualization?

First, hardware and software vendors are all making it easier for desktop virtualization adoption. Recent announcements by Citrix (XenDesktop 4), VMware (View 4), and Microsoft (Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7) demonstrate their continued commitment to drive development of their software products to improve user experience and ease the manageability and deployment of virtual desktop environments. On the hardware side, technologies such as AMD-V virtualization and I/O virtualization enable applications to more directly access resources at the processor and chipset level.

Second, IT implementers have a choice of desktop virtualization methods to meet their enterprise's business and user needs. The desktop virtualization models, which are described in more detail below, include hosted virtualized desktops, application streaming and desktop hypervisors.

Hosted Virtualized Desktops

Virtualized Desktop Infrastructure (VDI): With the VDI model, each user's virtualized desktop is hosted separately in a data center server. This approach makes the user's desktop independent from the client device and provides ongoing data security and backup. Each virtualized desktop is handled pretty much like a physical desktop. For example, application updates and patches are applied individually. In addition, each virtualized desktop, with its applications, data and user settings is processed and stored separately, which drives up server overhead and consumes storage space.

Single-Image Management: As with VDI, users can access their virtual desktops from any device and their data is protected and backed up. However, only a single image of the operating system and applications is hosted and managed, separately from the user settings and data. Therefore, patches and updates are applied once to the master image, while only the user settings and data are processed and stored. Savings can be gained in this model compared to VDI not only in reduced server and storage costs, but also potentially in software licensing and staff resources.

Application Streaming

In application streaming, applications are hosted and managed centrally in the data center but are available to users on-demand. Applications are delivered to client devices and run in a protected environment. They are cached locally and are available even if the client is not connected to the network. In this model, there is only one image of the application. Updates and patches are applied to that image, reducing management costs and potentially reducing licensing costs as well.

Desktop Hypervisors

Hypervisors monitor and control virtualization capabilities whether in servers or desktops: They partition hardware resources into multiple virtual machines, deploy shared resources and monitor guest operating systems. Type 1 (or native, bare-metal) hypervisors are software systems that run directly on the server or PC hardware. This is the classic implementation of virtual machine architectures, originally developed by IBM for its mainframes in the 1960s. VMware and Citrix support Type 1 hypervisors. Microsoft implemented Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 as a Type 2 (or hosted) hypervisor, which means that Windows XP runs as an application on top of Windows 7.

In contrast to the other desktop virtualization models, this model requires a full-function PC or laptop (thick client) and does not necessarily involve hosted virtualization or application streaming. Desktop hypervisors can be useful for setting up testing environments in application development or for running applications that require different operating system versions on the same desktop. The savings in this case stem from using one PC or laptop for multiple functions and not having to buy a second or third device.

It is, however, Microsoft's Windows XP mode in Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise versions that could have the biggest impact on mainstreaming desktop virtualization. This new capability gives a much larger audience-from Fortune 500 companies to SMBs, small startups and consumers-a taste of client virtualization, removing some of the barriers to widespread adoption. With virtualization as a core feature of the client OS, businesses can test out virtualization without buying into another infrastructure software.

Windows XP mode makes it easy to install and run Windows XP applications directly from a Windows 7-based PC, allowing users to enjoy the benefits of Windows 7 while maintaining support for legacy applications. Windows XP Mode's built-in virtualization technology takes advantage of AMD's virtualization innovation at the processor level.


As noted above, removing the barriers to widespread desktop virtualization depends greatly on IT departments matching the virtualization model to their business and user needs. This means putting together an infrastructure that delivers high-performance and a high-definition user experience to the desktop. In this situation, there are choices and decisions to be made in desktop devices and delivery models, then choosing the vendor or vendors for hardware, software and services.

AMD has provided the chip-level infrastructure to support desktop virtualization and works with application and operating system providers to ensure compatibility and performance. We can assist you in making the right connections to overcome barriers and make sure your desktop virtualization moves in the path to success.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post

Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.



Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.