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Desktop Virtualization: Is it an evolution of Enterprise Desktop environment?Or, “Back to the

September 19, 2010 - 2 Comments

Desktop Virtualization: Is it an evolution of Enterprise Desktop environment? Or, “Back to the Future”?

Another day and yet another article predicting the death of traditional desktop infrastructure in the enterprise and its replacement with desktop virtualization. Is this for real? Or, one more hype cycle in the IT industry? I suspect that eventually these predictions around transition to an “alternate” desktop compute model in enterprises will come true but when? Are the so-called benefits of desktop virtualization to the IT departments in terms of desktop administration and cost of ownership real? Are there any pit-falls to adopting this alternate desktop compute model? Is desktop virtualization relevant and is it worth evaluating it? My research says, yes to all of the above!

So, what is desktop virtualization? In order to understand it, let’s start with the evolution of Enterprise Computing environment – in the early days of computing, there were Mainframes and users accessed applications and data using simple terminals aka “dumb” terminals – the idea of rank and file having “uncontrolled” access to computing power was an anathema to an IT department. In the 80’s, PCs and distributed IT environment became de rigueur and suddenly, corporate information was scattered all over. Everyone was running different software, nothing was particularly compatible, and, of course, the IT departments were going absolutely bonkers trying to figure out how to control it all. PCs proved to be such a boon that entire generations of IT folks were educated on how to manage PCs, rather than to fight them. Mid-90s brought a dramatic shift to Internet computing environment and it became part of everyday work life in where millions of desktops were networked and applications as well as data were available locally and in a networked connected fashion. Each of these distinct phases has come with its own set of advantages and shortfalls. Because of the growing complexity of maintaining the enterprise desktop environment, the diverse nature of today’s workforce and the current harsh financial realities, the state of enterprise endpoint computing is in flux and it is increasingly becoming clear that another computing shift is coming with desktop virtualization in the year 2010 and beyond.

Let me now define desktop virtualization – Desktop virtualization in its simplest form is the decoupling of desktop environment from the physical hardware. While desktop virtualization has existed in some form for a while (e.g. Terminal Services), new deployment models such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has emerged. VDI is defined as the ability to centralize and standardize desktops that currently are distributed by IT organizations on a per-user basis and replacing them with with virtual machines that IT organizations can manage centrally from the data center. In short, a complete ‘desktop’ environment is executed on a server and rendered to the end-user over a display protocol and/or media extension. Centralizing the desktops, applications and data in the data center allows IT to tighten the control of corporate assets and simplifies desktop management. This has the promise of:

•         Reduced operating costs and increased control of desktop management

•         Extend business continuity and disaster recovery to your desktops

•         Deliver complete desktop environments to users with greater application compatibility.

So, how does an IT organization go about evaluating VDI project and realize all the benefits of migrating to VDI? It starts with upfront planning – when a VDI project fails or stalls, it typically is due to a lack of upfront understanding and strategic planning around the organizational and business impacts: for example, the need for expertise and process, an understanding of user requirements and application usage, and an approach involving comprehensive cost analysis of existing and targeted infrastructures. Businesses need extensive planning, coupled with a thorough understanding of users, applications, and manageability requirements, sound business justifications (TCO and ROI), and well-defined processes and automation before implementing VDI, as well as piloting of staged implementations.

In my next blog, I will talk about how does one go about creating a user profile and segmenting the user population inside an enterprise to identify them for migrating to VDI.

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  1. Speaking as a professional who was part of the “dumb terminals” research and development group at Digital Equip. Corp (DEC) in the 70’s, I lived through the development of their first “intelligent terminal”, then I watched “Marketing for Sales Growth” create a new industry to drive the intelligence and programs (and ridiculously complex problems in security) out to the desktop and everyones “Home Computer” or PC.
    In my opinion programs worked better centralized with dumb terminals, but looked much prettier with distributed workstation GUI’s.
    I think the new “Buzz-word” of “Virtualization” will put the Genie back in the bottle, but in a better form

    • I agree with you regarding your observation on putting the Genie back in the bottle in a better form. Also, point noted re: the “intelligent terminal”.