Virtual PCs show promise but remain unproven: tech heads

The technology's not advanced enough yet, some say

Gartner analysts told attendees at the firm’s recent annual datacentre conference in Las Vegas that virtualised desktop environments are coming and that the technology may even lead to worker ownership of laptops (see Computerworld, December 4).

However, ICT managers at the conference were more sceptical, saying that such a move may make sense in theory but current technology falls short of their needs.

Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman told conference attendees that many companies would prefer managing a virtual environment on an employee’s laptop to worrying about all the other applications that may have been loaded on a system. “It’s a lot harder to lock down the hardware than it is a virtual machine,” he said.

Bittman also said that once a company makes the move to a virtual environment, it can explore the idea of subsidising employee ownership of laptop PCs.

Some attendees agreed that virtual PCs could be more secure than current systems and less susceptible to conflicts and problems that could arise when employees install their own productivity applications or games. They also believe they might save on software licensing costs if applications can be delivered only as needed.

“I can see a drive toward virtual desktops,” says Ben Davis, director of networks at Matria Healthcare. Davis adds that virtual desktops would give ICT departments tighter control over software. Today, he says, if employees have PCs at home and access to the corporate network, “they basically have access to all of the network. With a virtual desktop, you can restrict that access.”

But Davis isn’t convinced that the technology now available matches the vision. “All I’m hearing is manufacturer hype,” he says. “It’s got to mature some.”

Dodd Vernon, operations manager at Walgreen, a US pharmacy chain with 5,500 stores, agrees. He says the virtualisation of laptop and desktop environments has been discussed, but the technology needs to be proven before his company will take action.

Thomas O’Sullivan, operations manager at the Montana Department of Transportation, concurs with Bittman. “The laptop may be the next logical step,” he says. O’Sullivan also says he can foresee employee ownership of laptops, noting that many already own the handheld devices that they use for work.

Vernon acknowledges the appeal of individually owned PCs with virtual work environments, saying, “I think there could be some cost benefit.”

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