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A no-budget desktop virtualization plan for 2011

Brian Madden lays out three surefire strategies for virtualizing your desktops in 2011 without virtualizing Windows 7 or budgeting for a VDI project.

I've been talking and writing about desktop virtualization in one form or another for 13 years now. Thirteen! And after all those years, where are we now? Are all of our desktops virtualized? Are all of our apps virtualized? Are we all using thin clients connecting to central desktops? Are we all running hypervisors? I'm thinking, "No" to all these questions.

OK, so we're not all over virtual desktops so far. What about 2011? Will we be using desktop virtualization by the end of this year? Will we all be using thin-client laptops and iPads for everything? Will we stream all of our applications anytime soon?

If you also think the answer to each of these questions is "No," then what exactly are we using desktop virtualization for? What can we reasonably expect to do in 2011? Let's take a look at three sure-fire strategies for desktop virtualization this year:

1. Come to accept that Win7 will be delivered the old way
Look, Windows 7 is big, and 2011 is the year that most organizations' Windows 7 deployments will hit the mainstream. I've long given up on the dream (delusion?) that Windows 7 and desktop virtualization will be linked in a single mega-project. So it's OK if your organization has, too. If you're "just" deploying Windows 7 the old way with no new desktop or application virtualization technologies, that's fine. There will be plenty of opportunities to sprinkle in a bit of virtualization here and there. Just let Windows 7 be Windows 7 and deal with desktop virtualization later.

2. Bridge the physical-to-virtual gap with the easy win
As your company deploys Windows 7 the old way, don't be discouraged by thinking that you've missed your desktop virtualization window. In fact, there are a lot of great technologies that you can deploy along with Windows 7 to help virtualize little bits of it -- and that will ultimately help you get to desktop virtualization.

For example, Windows 7 uses a different user profile than Windows XP. So why not use this Windows 7 rollout as your opportunity to "virtualize" your user environment? This will allow you to easily migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7 profiles while simultaneously making it easy to integrate with existing terminal servers and future virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

Or would you choose to add an application virtualization solution into your existing app-delivery mix? After all, App-V and Systems Center Configuration Manager work very well together! And the more apps you virtualize today, the fewer you'll have to deal with in the future.

(For more information about these easy wins, check out an earlier column, "Getting ready for desktop virtualization separately from Windows 7.")

3. Consider the free solutions
One of the challenges with desktop virtualization is that few companies have line items in their budgets for it. So while your CIO can get all the money he or she needs for Windows 7 deployments or that new ERP system, what do you do when you can't find money for desktop virtualization?

Actually, there are a few places you can look. First, a lot of vendors offer small-business or limited-user versions of their products for free. I'm not talking about time-limited evaluations -- I mean honest-to-goodness complete versions for free. While these free versions are typically limited to small groups of users (usually around five), they're great for proving the validity of a certain product or technology for a specific department.

Keep in mind that you can "roll your own" desktop virtualization solutions that might save a lot of time and be totally free. Are you currently deploying Windows 7 manually to laptops and building each laptop one by one? Can you use the free VMware Player to copy a template corporate virtual machine for each user instead of using an expensive third-party client VM management product?

The bottom line is that even if 2011 is not the year of desktop virtualization for your company, there are still a lot of cool things you can do toward desktop virtualization this year anyway!

Read more from Brian Madden

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog, BrianMadden.com, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

This was last published in January 2011

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I don't think this was one of Brian's more insightful articles -- which is a rare occurence.

Rather than delivering on a no-budget desktop plan for 2011, it was a no-content article that never discussed that point.

It would have been a more powerful comment back in early December. Then anyone that upgraded from VMware Enterprise to Enterprise Plus could get 50 View Add-on clients "at no charge". Up to three times (three separate orders) by Dec 15th, 2010. That equated to 150 VDI licenses including 1 year maintenance for free worth about $28,000. And the upgrade cost of Ent to Ent Plus was also discounted so for about 40% more than you would pay to renew your VMware Enterprise licenses in 2011, you received Enterprise Plus (which is important for plug-ins, ease of management, and centralized networking, even if you are not going for the Cisco UCS networking offering).

Today, while not free, VMware View has offerings to get you started with vCenter Foundation server and tools.

Brian -- if you care to comment, as many SBS 2003 companies are moving to SBS 2008 (now that SBS 2011 is coming out), their ISA 2004 server has gone away and their VPN had to be removed during the migration prcess -- should they consider virtual desktop, remote desktop or third party VPN or VDI soltuion to bridge the gap for outside users used to VPN'ing and accessing folders, etc.

Doing that on a low budget would be a miracle.
One free option is the KVM hypervisor that is included in the Linux kernel... and the SPICE remote display protocol that Red Hat released as open source last spring.

Right now you are sort of limited to using the Fedora 14 Linux distribution as a hosting platform because integration of SPICE has not yet made its way into the standard libvirtd library that is used by most GUI KVM management tools. That should change within a few months though with the release of Fedora 15 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.1... and later any RHEL clones... like CentOS and Scientific Linux.

Of course I'd only recommend rolling your own for smaller deployments unless you really want to design and deploy your own SAN. That will probably change with in a Linux kernel release or two when DRBD also becomes a standard kernel feature... and even more so in a year or two when BTRFS becomes production quality and also a standard Linux filesystem.

For small businesses or home offices, go for it NOW... as long as you are already familiar with Linux or aren't afraid to learn.

If you want a commercial product based on KVM and SPICE now, Virtual Bridges VERDE 5 is due out real soon now. The use the standard open source components and augment them with some proprietary glue for the management and clustering features in a value added product.