Virtualisation vendors eye the desktop

While server virtualisation has taken off, little has happened with regard to desktop PCs. A new industry group aims to change that. Shelley Solheim reports

VMware, which trailblazed the way for broader adoption of server virtualisation, is now hoping to drive virtualisation of the desktop with the help of other companies.

It is one of the founding members of the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Alliance, along with more than 20 other software, hardware and service providers. The alliance is aimed at building joint virtual desktop offerings.

VMware’s vision of desktop virtualisation sees IT administrators host and centrally manage desktops in virtual machines, on servers in datacentres, as a way to mitigate against costs and time spent on managing and securing desktop PCs, especially for companies with remote workers or outsourced operations.

Charter members of the group include Altiris, Softricity, Sun, Wyse, Citrix, ClearCube, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. With desktop virtualisation, users can use traditional desktop PCs, thin-client devices or other hardware that can connect to servers, through protocols such as Microsoft’s RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).

“The potential here is a lot more efficient use of hardware, better, centralised management and potentially more flexibility for users in that they’re not tied to a particular desktop device,” says Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata. “I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. We’ll probably end up with a combination of thin clients and various types of fat clients.”

“Desktop virtualisation is a very immature market, but we do see some customers doing it because it gives them the ability to physically house operating systems and data files somewhere they have control, whether that’s for security or manageability reasons,” says Al Gillen, research director of system software for analyst firm IDC. “Where it becomes more attractive is where customers use thin-client devices, when they move from a fat client to a thin client on the desktop. That’s where the real benefits in acquisition and ownership costs can be realised.”

However, vendors still need to do a lot of work to make it easier and cheaper for users, analysts say. One of the biggest technological hurdles lies not in hardware, but in software to manage connections and images provisioning, Haff says.

“We’re still figuring out the whole software stack, which in some respects is more complicated than in the server world because you’re talking about so many more images and more end-point devices to manage,” Haff says. “It’s both maturation of different pieces, primarily the software stack, and then pooling it all together in an easily deployed way, and getting the price right.”

VMware will collaborate with members to create, test and integrate joint desktop hosting offerings, says Jerry Chen, VMWare’s director of enterprise desktops.

Jim Jones, senior network administrator at WTC Communications, a 30-employee service provider, has used VMware to consolidate servers and, in September, started to virtualise some of its desktops as well.

“It kind of happened naturally — we needed a PC in short order and we just had an old junker lying around. So we thought let’s just try Windows XP in it, and it was neat and it worked. We didn’t have to go out and buy another Dell,” Jones says.

So far the company has only virtualised a handful of PCs, but in the next six months it plans to add another VMware server and virtualise a couple more servers, and three or four more desktops, Jones says.

In addition to saving on new equipment, Jones likes being able to configure the machines’ memory as needed for users and that each user gets their own virtual machine. Jones says as far as savings go, “it’s very real”.

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Tags desktoptechnologyvirtualisation

More about Altiris AustraliaCitrix Systems Asia PacificDellHewlett-Packard AustraliaIBM AustraliaIDC AustraliaIlluminataMicrosoftSoftricityVMware AustraliaWyse

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