No Rush to Virtual Desktops

Windows 7 may prompt some CIOs to try desktop virtualization, but widespread adoption is still years away.

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Updating Old PCs

The fact that some companies are unwilling to upgrade their PC hardware so that it's capable of supporting Windows 7 could also help make virtual desktops more popular, according to Chris Wolf, an analyst at Burton Group, now part of Gartner Inc.

Implementing Windows 7 requires upgrading hardware, updating custom-built software, training end users and updating the security on PCs running the new operating system. That process can be so expensive and disruptive that many companies are asking consultancies like Burton Group to evaluate whether it makes sense to leave end users on their present hardware and upgrade them by running Windows 7 as part of a virtual-desktop connection, Wolf explains.

Connecting end users to a new operating system on a server can more than double the life of an aging PC while still giving end users all the power and support for new software and new technology they want, according to Peter Graves, CIO at Ionia, Mich.-based Independent Bank Corp.

About 90% of Independent Bank's users already have shared-session virtual desktops from Citrix Systems Inc., and Graves says that adding the other 10% will be no great leap once the technology supports the customized software and peripherals they need.

The same is not true of most companies, many of which have little history with or understanding of virtual desktops and are just getting used to virtual servers, cloud computing, and cost- and labor-saving IT tactics, Mann says.

This may explain why desktop virtualization has yet to take off even though it has been around for at least a decade.

Numerous surveys of corporate IT managers reveal tremendous interest in desktop virtualization but not much adoption. "We've been looking for a sharp inflection in sales of virtual desktops for three years," Mann says, but it hasn't taken place.

What's the holdup? An EMA survey of 102 IT managers last year found that the top three barriers to desktop virtualization are all human factors: lack of skills or knowledge, internal political issues, and a lack of resources.

The Role of Windows 7

Banks, hospitals, schools, government agencies and other enterprises that have tight budgets or are strictly regulated are the organizations that are most likely to embrace desktop virtualization.

Companies that have resisted terminal-services-based virtual desktops as too clunky, too restrictive and too off-putting to independent-minded workers make up an untapped market of prospective customers that vendors hope will rush to adopt new desktop virtualization products, Wolf says.

All of those potential virtual desktops don't have 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 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.

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