Desktop virtualization is nothing new. Citrix, Microsoft, and VMW are all making virtualization software solutions that centralize the support and maintenance of end-user desktops. What advantages are there for virtualizing desktops? Some are already apparent: standardizing and centralizing the desktop image lowers the cost of support and speeds up the recovery time for troubled, individual systems. With the cloud platform gaining in popularity and mobile devices outnumbering desktops, the number of advantages of desktop virtualization over client/server grows.
VMware entered the mobile device management when it released Airwatch. The firm recognizes the growing importance of mobile for enterprise users. On the desktop management front, it developed a VDI solution (virtual desktop infrastructure) called VMware Horizon 6. Horizon 6 lets a network administrator create a single workspace. Custom applications added to the workspace through RDS hosted applications. This way of managing desktops greatly lowers the time requirement for customizing individual desktops.
IT admins might have an easy way to standardize the imaging of a desktop. After setting up a new PC, installing applications and updating software, the IT department may then image it. The problem with this approach is that the image becomes out of date as software changes. Firefox, Windows, and other software applications need constant updates. Another problem with the desktop imaging approach is that hardware changes. The PC specification that was deployed three years ago may no longer be available. When the IT department makes a purchase of a new PC, the original desktop image is not usable.
With VDI, VMware allows administrators to update applications and the workspace image. It may then be deployed without major downtime to the desktop user.
Citrix also offers XenDesktop for its VDI solution. The application also boasts the ability for users to access a desktop on a mobile device. One of the advantages with Citrix’s suite of solutions is the way it supports collaboration. Through the GoToMeeting program, teams may meet online, share desktop screens, have video conferencing, and send files to each other securely.
Citrix is also getting into the mobile device management game, an area BlackBerry wishes to dominate. Some of the standard features XenMobile offers are secure email, browser and document sharing.
Horizon, XenDesktop, and other VDIs are not a value-add for all enterprises. It makes sense to virtualize the desktop in places like schools, where up to tens of thousands of end-users might change every year. For smaller shops, the time savings for the IT department and the end user might not offset the cost of the VDI software. There is also a learning curve (albeit very minimal) for network administrators. Access is also constrained when the user is mobile: if internet access is flakey or unavailable, the virtual desktop is also inaccessible.
Every workplace has differing needs. VDI solutions are something that may suit a company, but it depends. To determine the value of VDI, IT should perform a rough calculation on the cost of buying hardware, and the support time needed to manage desktops throughout the life of the equipment. If desktop virtualization cuts down the support time and improves business recovery processes, then the company should consider this path.