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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It's not just K12 education in Texas that's tapping the power of virtualization. At the University of Texas Medical Branch, the support, hardware and network load are different depending on what type of virtual desktop is involved, Winburn says. But any kind of virtual desktop delivers a far more efficient use of IT resources than putting all the power of a PC on every user's desk, he explains.

"The big difference is that you don't have to support the endpoint -- just the user settings and the network and servers," Winburn says. "I could put five or six PCs on a T1 at a clinic somewhere and people are going to complain that Outlook is slow to open, or it takes too long for browsing. I could throw 30 or 40 [Citrix thin clients] on that connection sharing one desktop image back in the data center, and they run like a champ."

Desktop virtualization options are expanding

Traditional, terminal-services-based virtual desktops allow dozens or hundreds of end users to sign on to a single operating system and set of applications, all running on a back-end server. That keeps costs very low, but limits or eliminates the ability of individual users to configure their own environments. It also keeps them from viewing bandwidth-intensive video, Flash animation or other multimedia, whether on the Web or on controlled internal applications. This happens because most desktop-virtualization software doesn't have a mechanism to support it, Mann says.

That's changing with newer versions of the server software from both Citrix and Wyse. Citrix' recently released XenDesktop 4 supports not only multimedia, but also USB connections at the client side. The result is that end users can plug in peripherals like printers, scanners and memory sticks -- or even fans, lights and desktop toys if they like, Mann says.

VMware -- long the leader in the virtual server market -- plans to release similar support in its VMware View VDI products early in 2010.

But even then it will trail Citrix in the number of delivery methods it offers for virtual desktops and the breadth of products tailored to specific problems, like the Citrix branch repeater that slashes the amount of bandwidth required for remote sessions of the notoriously chatty Exchange server, Mann explains.

Further, Citrix' HDX technology eliminates one of the few barriers to using a virtual PC just like a real one, according to Graves. HDX allows users of VDI-based virtual desktops to use Web-based multimedia and to plug USB devices into their local machines, even if the software operating the peripherals and the browser is running in a data center somewhere, Graves says.

With that addition, the bank can expand its centralized virtual-desktop support and delay buying new PCs, reducing the $400,000 it currently spends on new hardware, Graves says.

It's not clear yet whether the 10% of Independent Bank's 1,200 employees who don't already use virtual desktops will be able to make the leap to VDI, according to Ben Kohn, senior systems architect for the bank.

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