Desktop PCs get some virtual action

The success of server virtualization in the enterprise is opening up opportunities for desktop virtualization to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, according to industry observers.

Reducing the cost of performing desk-side support and avoiding costly upgrades for hundreds of PCs deployed across the enterprise are some of the drivers behind increased action in the desktop virtualization market, said John Sloan, senior research analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

The idea of having better control of the applications and software licensing as well as locking down desktops for better access control and security are also proving to be an appealing proposition for the enterprise IT decision makers, Sloan said.

Desktop virtualization enables the provisioning of virtual instances of PCs to end-users from a single server, allowing IT administrators to centrally manage desktop configurations and have better control of those assets.

“It is becoming well documented that server virtualization helps to decrease energy and hardware acquisition costs in the data centre,” said Sloan.

Enterprises that have deployed and seen success with server virtualization are now looking for other ways to apply the technology, he added. Similar to server virtualization (technology that enables the creation of multiple instances of virtual servers from a single physical machine) deploying virtual desktops promises more efficient utilization of hardware capacity.

“The expensive problem of maintaining and supporting PCs and their application across the company has clearly emerged as a target,” said Sloan, adding that interest among enterprise IT decision makers on desktop virtualization technologies has increased over the last 10 months.

Despite the increasing trend towards desktop virtualization, however, the market is still in its early stages and way behind server virtualization in terms of widespread adoption, said Sloan.

“[Desktop virtualization] is not nearly as far along as server virtualization and there are still going to be lots of issues that need to be addressed in terms of how these desktops are managed and what kind of infrastructure we need to support them,” said Sloan.

Even with the increasing hype among vendors about the benefits of virtual desktops, the roadmap set out for the technology is still about a year or two away from realization, the Info-Tech analyst noted.

At least one Canadian organization has started to spread the good news of desktop virtualization.

Vancouver-based TSI Terminal Systems has been using VMWare’s ACE product for provisioning virtual workstations in relation to a massive ERP rollout the company has embarked on two years ago.

“The big thing for us is when we started the ERP implementation, we had a lot of finger-pointing with the vendor where they would claim it was a network issue, or workstation issue or configuration issue,” explained Michel Labelle, network and terminal support manager for TSI.

ACE enabled Labelle’s team to create and run a fixed image of the workstation, with all of TSI’s development and support tools for quality assurance built into that image. This virtual workstation is then sent over to the vendor so they could test it in their own facility.

“That was the key factor for us: that ability to encapsulate the entire environment, move it from workstation to workstation, and take out the finger pointing. That really cut down on the bug-fix time,” Labelle said.

TSI also uses VMWare ACE to provision workstations in its training centres for retraining some 1,200 users on the new ERP system. Currently, the company is running between 50 and 55 licensed virtual workstations, the TSI executive said.

The Vancouver firm plans to expand the use of the VMWare ACE for business continuity purposes and enabling employees to work remotely.

“We had traditionally [connected remote workers] with VPN, but there was a huge security concern, and with the new Marine Transportation Safety Act in Canada we could no longer provide that because we couldn’t guarantee who’s coming (into our network),” said Labelle.

With virtualization, TSI can provision a locked down workstation to an employee and enable remote working. Because it’s a complete corporate desktop image, TSI’s IT does not need to dictate what kind of operating system or configuration employees should be running on their home PCs, he added.

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