Virtual desktop sites slowly gain critical mass

A year after the release of Citrix XenDesktop, virtual desktops are less of an oddity and instead are being included in more enterprise-strategic plans.

LAS VEGAS -- Although IT managers recognize that virtual desktop technology is still a work in progress, many are

sold on its promise to simplify mundane tasks. In response, these managers are planning significant installations later this year.

At Citrix System Inc.'s Synergy 2009 this week, IT managers from companies as diverse as grain handlers to casinos to financial institutions all mentioned plans for proof-of-concept rollouts of virtual desktop technology this summer. The companies also -- fingers crossed -- will have installations up and running by the end of the year.

Tim Frawley, CTO at MGM Mirage, a Las Vegas-based entertainment company, is running a 20-desk trial with XenDesktop, comparing it to VMware Inc.'s View desktop virtualization software suite. The company is constructing CityCenter, a resort and condo complex on the Las Vegas Strip, which opens later this year.

Frawley will keep both vendors on their toes by always having two vendor offerings in the mix. He said IT managers want to find a way to keep people from messing with their desktops.

One of the more promising technologies is the Citrix Receiver for PCs, Macs and iPhones, which is a delivery mechanism for desktops and applications. The software client can deliver apps to any device, while also allowing IT to centrally manage them.

Receiver should simplify application provisioning, Frawley said. "You bring them [users] in, give them a single log-in, they go to one site and only one email is needed just to get approval," he said.

Citrix released Receiver and discussed the as-yet-unavailable Dazzle this week. Dazzle is a self-service storefront where end users can choose their applications. It's aimed at the new generation of computer users who are accustomed to selecting software using interfaces such as iTunes on their devices. "We need this to address what the new generation wants," Frawley said.

The Regina, Sask.-based grain supplier, Viterra Inc., has 4,000 desktops with 2,500 end users on Citrix XenApps. Robin Datta, the Citrix administrator at Viterra, will also consider using XenDesktop. "Receiver--wow. Now that is neat for remote access," Datta said. The company has a separate group that manages VMware Inc. desktop and server tools.

More on Citrix:
  • Citrix aims to dazzle with self-service portal, iPhone client
  • Citrix Synergy 2009 news guide
  • Another company planning a virtual desktop installation by the end of 2009 is Ravago Shared Services, an Orlando-based plastics manufacturer. Andrew Mercantini, director of IT services at Ravago, said he plans to eliminate desktops at his company, adding Wyse terminals when possible.

    JNData, a Silkeborg, Denmark-based service provider that specializes in delivering IT services for financial institutions, is testing a 10,000-seat installation of XenDesktop for bank employees. Allan Bjoernholt, JNData's systems engineer, said it was easy to sell to management "given the cost of managing 10,000 workstations."

    Earlier this week, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton said his company had sold a XenDesktop installation for 40,000 seats to a large manufacturing company. He did not name the client.

    Attitude shift

    People are generally growing more comfortable with networked computing and the idea of dynamic application delivery. Even if they don't get applications delivered this way at work, they're delivered this way at home, said Gordon Haff, analyst with Illuminata, a Nashua, N.H., consulting firm.

    One consequence of virtual desktop technology--another way to deliver applications over the network--is that it changes data center dynamics in terms of how IT roles are divided.

    Traditionally, many companies fielded server teams and desktop teams. Virtual desktop technology forces PC folks to sit down with the server people to figure out what makes the most sense, Haff said. "I'm sure the blending of those ideas is still an issue, but we are definitely further down the road; things are getting better."

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