User Reaction, Capital Costs Among Desktop Virtualization Sticking Points

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I wonder if IT personnel don't sometimes react to stalled or failed implementations like the unmasked villain in every episode of "Scooby Doo." You know, "If it hadn't been for those meddling users, everything would have gone perfectly!"


When I interviewed Gartner VP and analyst James Browning about midmarket CIOs' experiences with and future plans for virtualization, he told me most of the CIOs experienced early success with server and storage virtualization, encountering fewer technical hurdles than expected and winning raves from CFOs for saving their companies money. Midmarket CIOs moved even faster on virtualization than their counterparts at larger companies.


The lack of meddling users likely played a part as well. Unlike enterprise applications used by business people, server and storage virtualization are essentially invisible to end users. So no long and sometimes frustrating exercises in gathering requirements, trying to translate user wants and needs into software that can be produced on time and on budget.


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That may be different with what many midmarket CIOs see as the next step in their virtualization plans, desktop virtualization. Desktops are a part of the infrastructure that most business people use every day, and some of them may have proprietary feelings about "their" PCs. (The "P" in PC is for personal, after all.) So desktop virtualization will be far trickier than server or storage virtualization, Browning told me. Midmarket CIOs were "a little myopic," he said:


They didn't take into account the fact that for each of these devices, they are dealing with end users. They didn't have to worry about that on the server side. Many users never knew there was a change from a physical server to a VM (virtual machine).


User experience is one of the sticking points in Carfax's intended move to desktop virtualization, CTO Gary Lee told me when I interviewed him a few months ago. IT wasn't yet comfortable it could give business users "the same experience they currently get on an internal machine on whatever machine is there," Lee said. Desktop virtualization is part of the company's plan to allow employees to buy their own PCs. Those who don't do so will be migrated to thin clients. Explained Lee:


We don't want to force anything on anybody. But we're hoping these two things together [desktop virtualization and employee-purchased PCs] will allow us to move to an environment that not only makes people happier to have their own laptops, but for the folks who don't want to participate we can wean them off a PC and over to a thin client. There will be initial higher costs, but we believe the ROI is there because the long-term support will be so much easier.


The initial higher costs mentioned by Lee are another deterrent to desktop virtualization for many midmarket CIOs, Browning told me. Some who are now testing desktop virtualization are finding their capital costs higher than expected. Desktop virtualization also doesn't yield a quick, hard ROI like server virtualization. The returns are more gradual, largely based on reduced management and security costs. Desktop virtualization offerings are still a bit immature, added Brown, a statement echoed by Lee in our interview.


Still, 32 percent of midmarket CIOs recently surveyed by Browning are testing/piloting desktop virtualization and 5 percent already have it in production, with another 34 percent planning to evaluate it in the next 12 months. Twenty-two percent see no current business need, and 3 percent said they would never use it.


Browning expects midmarket adoption of desktop virtualization will be more gradual than server virtualization, with many companies ultimately deploying it to 20 percent or fewer of their users.