Will desktop virtualization go mainstream in 2010?

Despite a laundry list of challenges hindering its adoption, desktop virtualization will be one of the most talked about strategic technologies in 2010, according to IT consulting firm Soroc Technology Inc.


The Woodbridge, Ont.-based IT services company has recently been touting its DT 360 (Desktop Transformation) framework, which aims to evaluate the impact that desktop virtualization will have an application profiling, maintenance, security, and other IT infrastructure requirements. The company also offers a “proof of concept centre,” which gives its customers suggests for virtual desktop technologies that might be suited to their environment.


For Soroc, desktop virtualization is the biggest workload that an enterprise is currently faced with, even more than mainframe or client-server apps.


Alex Topitsch, director of advanced solutions at Soroc, said the virtual desktop industry is at the same point where virtualization in the data centre was at three years ago. He added that many enterprises will be spending the first half of 2010 planning out their roadmap, with more full-fledged rollouts coming later in the year and into early 2011.


“When it comes to the virtual desktop, it strikes so many areas of IT investment for the company,” Topitsch said. “Everything from your operations, to your security, to your disaster recovery plans. It touches everything.”


Topitsch said the issues that will need to be addressed before the technology truly hits mainstream include improving the user experience, gaining more widespread corporate acceptance, overcoming the management issues, solving potential network connectivity issues, and dealing with legacy applications.


But while most industry analysts haven’t been as optimistic for a desktop virtualization boom as Soroc might be, the fact that more vendors are offering Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) likely means the technology has a good chance at addressing these current challenges.


VDI uses the same kind of hypervisors that allow many virtual machines to run on a single physical host, but rather than running five- or 10-server VMs on one physical server, VDI can run 50 PC operating systems, each of which serves a single end user.


Microsoft Corp. is one vendor pushing desktop virtualization. The company has said it designed Windows 7 to play nicely with old applications, especially those written for Windows XP.


Another element that could make virtual desktops far more popular is the unwillingness of some companies to upgrade their PC hardware enough to support migrations to Windows 7, according to Chris Wolf, infrastructure analyst at The Burton Group.


The improvements being made in user experience are also a big step forward for desktop virtualization, according to Andi Mann, a research analyst with Enterprise Management Associates Inc.


Giving end users all the capabilities they’d have on standalone machines — which include the ability to add or update their own browser plug-ins, media players and other “extraneous” software — could overcome most of the objections by business units that have kept virtual desktops out of the mainstream user base, Mann added.


For Topitsch, virtual desktop technology actually has the potential to give an even better user experience at the client side than a traditional desktop PC.


“When it comes to traditional desktop environments, the desktop is local to the user,” he said. “But the applications you run might connect back to the data centre, so you have latency and congestion on that network.”


On the other hand, because a virtual desktop resides in the data centre along with the applications, the network is a lot faster and more robust, Topitsch added.


– With files from Kevin Fogarty, Computerworld (US)

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