Desktops set to get some virtual action: analyst

As server virtualisation becomes more widespread, the practice will shift to desktops, some say

The success of server virtualisation in the enterprise is opening up opportunities for desktop virtualisation 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 an organisation are some of the drivers behind increased action in the desktop virtualisation market, says John Sloan, senior research analyst at Canada’s 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 IT decision makers, Sloan says.

Desktop virtualisation 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 virtualisation helps to decrease energy and hardware acquisition costs in the datacentre,” says Sloan.

Enterprises that have deployed and seen success with server virtualisation are now looking for other ways to apply the technology, he says. As with server virtualisation, deploying virtual desktops promises more efficient utilisation of hardware capacity.

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

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

“[Desktop virtualisation] is not nearly as far along as server virtualisation 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,” he says.

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 realisation, he says.

An example of an end-user that has implemented desktop virtualisation is Vancouver-based container terminal operator TSI Terminal Systems, which has been using VMWare’s ACE product for provisioning virtual workstations in relation to a massive ERP rollout it 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,” says Michel Labelle, TSI’s network and terminal support manager.

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 the image. This virtual workstation is then sent over to the vendor so they can 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 says.

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 company plans to expand the use of the VMWare ACE for business continuity purposes and to enable 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),” says Labelle.

With virtualisation, 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.

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