Another Year of Waiting for the Virtual Desktop

Arthur Cole
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When Is It Right for a Business to Consider Desktop Virtualization?

Tips for determining whether desktop virtualization is right for your business.

Another year, another 12 months of fence-sitting for the virtual desktop.

The technology that is continually on the verge of taking over the enterprise needs to show some dramatic progress soon, lest it be consigned permanent status as "the little technology that could but never did."

Not to worry, say top analysts. Virtual desktops are poised to make substantial inroads into the enterprise in the coming year. CDW reports that 90 percent of businesses are implementing virtual desktop infrastructure of one form or another, or are considering such a project within the next two years. Of course, that number is less impressive than it sounds considering that enterprise managers are likely considering a broad range of technologies on a two-year deployment window, particularly ones that purport to offer hefty cost reductions and operational efficiency.

Certainly, the virtual desktop platform providers are stressing the flexibility benefits of late. VMware recently released a preview of the newest View client for the OS X Lion operating system, soon to be joined by clients for Linux and the Kindle Fire. VMware is betting that by incorporating as many client devices as possible into the View fold, enterprises will come to see VDI as essential to the new mobile work force.

What's not happening, though, is a concrete program to overcome some of the negative aspects of a fully virtualized desktop environment - namely, its impact on existing IT infrastructure. As ZDNet's Dan Kusnetzky pointed out recently, many enterprises look into virtual desktops with the best intentions (thus, the high rate of those planning to do it at some future point) but then balk at the cost of upgrading servers, storage and networking to accommodate the increased data loads generated by hundreds if not thousands of newly centralized desktops.

Indeed, echoes VDI consultant Neil Spellings, without substantial improvements in physical infrastructure, expect to see a range of functionality issues, such as storage latency, boot and logon difficulties and problems managing even common tools like antivirus software. This will particularly be the case if, as in many organizations, IT simply repackages current Windows 7 images as new VDI templates.

None of these problems are insurmountable, of course. It's just a question of time and money invested vs. operational and other benefits returned. In a way, desktop virtualization is a victim of the server and network virtualization that has gone before it. With hardware utilization rates at an all-time high, many enterprises simply do not want to return to the high capital budgets of years gone by to accommodate yet another layer of virtualization.

It could be that VMware has the right idea and VDI will prove crucial to mobile and cloud computing. But until that need can be clearly demonstrated, enterprises are likely to keep the virtual desktop at arm's length.

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