Desktop virtualization: Will Windows 7 change the game?

Some customers will bite, but widespread desktop virtualization adoption is still years off

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This may explain why desktop virtualization has been around for at least a decade, but it has yet to take off. IT managers have told analysts and pollsters that they're ready to adopt virtual desktops but have not yet made the leap.

"All the surveys we and others have done of end users showed a tremendous interest in desktop virtualization that just hasn't happened yet in the marketplace," Mann says. "We've been looking for a sharp inflection in sales of virtual desktops for three years" -- but it hasn't taken place.

A survey of end-user companies that Enterprise Management Associates released in September shows the top three barriers to desktop virtualization are all human factors -- based either on users' ignorance of the technology or politics about who has control over it.

Windows 7's role

Banks, hospitals, schools, government agencies and other organizations that have either very tight budgets or restrictive operating regulations have made up the bulk of Citrix' and Wyse Technology's installed base for years.

Other companies -- which have resisted terminal services-based virtual desktops as too clunky, too restrictive and too off-putting to independent-minded workers -- make up a constituency of what vendors now hope will be a rush to new desktop virtualization products, Burton Group's Wolf says.

There's nothing that requires all those potential virtual desktops to run on Windows -- let alone Windows 7 -- Wolf acknowledges. While running virtual Windows 7 desktops would be cheaper than the real thing, it's still not as cheap as the virtual XP desktops companies may already be running.

Still, the appeal is there for some customers. Virtualizing a Windows 7 migration gives IT a lot more control by keeping the whole process inside the data center and by reducing the hardware and support costs as well, Wolf says.

That might make two big migrations more attractive than just one -- at least that's what Microsoft, Citrix and a host of third-party developers are hoping, he says.

Microsoft's dilemma

For its part, Microsoft seems to be playing both sides of the issue. The vendor is clearly supporting desktop virtualization, but is leery of anything that would threaten the primacy of the standalone PC as the main business computing platform.

Even Microsoft's main desktop-virtualization product manager doesn't sound comfortable with the idea that most or all of a major company's PCs could be virtualized.

"We expect to see a significant amount of deployment [of virtual desktops] on Windows 7 from CIOs looking for reduced costs in deploying applications on Windows 7," says Scott Woodgate, the director of Windows product management who is leading development of Microsoft's desktop virtualization technology.

While Microsoft is "excited to have an offering" in the virtual desktop market, the company believes customers "should virtualize for the right reasons -- for the flexibility it offers -- not just focus on the potential cost savings," Woodgate says.

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