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The Options for Virtual Desktops

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Lab Fashions come and go, in IT as well as ‘real life’, and those charged with managing desktops and laptops have been bombarded over much of the last year with information concerning ‘virtual desktop solutions’.

As we know, an apparently ever-growing range of options are now becoming available to service desktop delivery, with a variety of thick, thin and KVM architectures all in the mix. So what options are suited to which kinds of environment? And what challenges are seen to be in the way of large scale adoption of desktop virtualisation?

Earlier this year we asked you, the readers of The Register, which desktop virtualisation solutions you are familiar with. Unsurprisingly, given the IT-literate nature of the Reg’s readership, ‘client partitioning’ - namely running multiple virtual machines on the same desktop or laptop - enjoyed the highest degree of experience and understanding. Close behind can be found adoption of Citrix/Windows terminal services. These two could almost be described as the ‘traditional’ desktop virtualisation architectural approaches.

Newer approaches to desktop virtualisation do not enjoy such widespread understanding in technical IT communities. Of these, VDI solutions based on a shared server architecture has the most people reporting expert or competent working understanding, although the rates are only half those for client partitioning. Application virtualisation is even further behind, although understanding is reported to be higher than that for VDI architectures based on a single blade per desktop. This is an interesting result, given the simplicity of the idea.

When looking at which functional work groups are suitable candidates for VDI solutions whereby the desktop is held in centrally managed server pools, Reg readers have told us that so called transaction workers who utilise few systems are good targets, with general office users close behind. The approach is even seen by almost half of the survey’s respondents to fit highly mobile workers. For example, with desktops checked out to laptops, used whilst on the road then synchronised back into the server systems on the user’s return to the office.

Whilst many work groups are seen as suitable targets for the various forms of desktop virtualisation, IT professionals form the bedrock of those currently using such systems, although other general business groups are not far behind. Is VDI adoption hurtling forward in your organisation? If so, you may be in a minority.

The potential inhibitors to adoption vary widely with a broad range of reasons highlighted. Cost factors naturally feature highly with potential impacts on server, storage and network infrastructure costs seen to be a challenge. The acquisition costs associated with the software solutions themselves are another issue. Other challenges identified include factors such as user perceptions of service quality and management technologies, as well as general user resistance.

But perhaps the most telling point raised concerns the fact that in many organisations there are more pressing priorities on both IT budget spend and IT staff resources than working on VDI. This is clearly an issue given that one of the stated advantages of VDI solutions, whatever their architectural approach, is that they should ease the undoubted burden on over-stretched IT professionals.

Without the time being found to investigate VDI it will be difficult for even test projects to get underway, or even for basic solution suitability to be established. There are many approaches to delivering desktop services using virtualisation, but there is an absolute need for IT staff to have the technical knowledge to work out which approach fits where inside their business.

The major desktop virtualisation vendors have much work to do to better explain the benefits of the different approaches and to give clear illustrations of which solutions work for what classes of user. ®

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