IT's Love/Hate Relationship with Desktop Virtualization

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.

The IT industry continues its dalliance with desktop virtualization, with dreams of streamlined infrastructure and highly flexible operating environments that will kick worker productivity to new levels.

However, a number of nagging doubts remain, fueled by high levels of frustration among organizations that have actually tried to implement the technology.

It's pretty clear that the enterprise is sold on the theoretical benefits of desktop virtualization, although we still must take industry-sponsored research with a grain of salt. Citrix' annual Synergy event in San Francisco, for example, saw the release of a new survey from Matrix42 that showed 70 percent of enterprises are eager to consolidate management of physical and virtual desktops under a single platform, while nearly half were looking forward to reduced management and support costs.

To be fair, virtual desktop providers are quick to recognize many of the technology's limitations. But in classic marketing fashion, many are already touting the "new and improved" formula that corrects the deficiencies of the past. Virtual Bridges, for example, is on the board with VDI Gen2, featuring the new VERDE platform, which does, in fact, unite online, offline and remote users under a single management interface. The company says it can improve desktop TCO through centralized image and data management and support for all client machines on the market.

But even as talk of advanced solutions progresses, more and more users are expressing frustration with the current state of virtual desktop technology. Computerworld recently highlighted Southern Co.'s latest venture, which hit the skids once IT executives realized the difficulty in distributing applications across the complex new desktop infrastructure. For some employees, such as those manning the call center, this was no big deal considering they normally accessed only a few standardized apps. Other workers, who had more diverse needs, had more trouble accessing applications than they did with traditional PCs.

Maintaining unique user experiences in virtual environments has long been one of the top priorities for virtual desktop developers. The problem is that maintaining such a diversity of images eats up a lot of storage. However, a company called RingCube Technologies says it has a fix by allowing users to build customized desktops and application sets on top of standard VMware and Citrix images. The company claims it can reduce the typical 20 GB of storage needed for a typical Windows/Office environment to about 5 GB.

In a sense, desktop virtualization is no different from legions of other IT technologies that have come along. Great promise gives way to cold, hard reality, followed by numerous tweaks and add-ons to address real-world concerns. Eventually it reaches a stage in which the technology does, in fact, produce a desirable result or is consigned to the dustbin.

The fact that desktop virtualization has enjoyed such a lengthy trial is testament to both the significant benefit it represents to existing IT infrastructure and the tremendous complexity that such a change entails.

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