News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

Virtual server, desktop address different problems

Brian Madden kicks off his first column, now a weekly occurrence, by discussing the difference between server virtualization and desktop virtualization.

Welcome to my first weekly column for, a companion website to As the name implies, it's still 100% focused on desktop virtualization.

My weekly column will focus on topics in the desktop virtualization industry, both technical and business-oriented, that will be useful to administrators planning or thinking about implementing a desktop virtualization solution. These columns will be based on conversations we're having on, or will tackle issues that haven't yet surfaced on the site.

This week I will be talking about the differences between "server virtualization" and "desktop virtualization." So many "server virtualization" people are starting to become "desktop virtualization" people, and vice-versa. But, the reality is that server virtualization and desktop virtualization have nothing to do with each other. In fact it's almost too bad they both have the word "virtualization" in their names; this causes people to incorrectly think they're two different versions of the same thing.

Unfortunately, desktop virtualization is a lot harder than server virtualization. Let's examine the skills it takes to administer Windows Servers versus the skills it takes to be a desktop admin.

Server administrators need to know things like change control, auditing, domain architecture and backup and recovery. Desktop admins need to understand application installation conflicts, login scripts and roaming profiles. Apart from having the same kernel and both being called "Windows," in practice there is not too much in common between Windows Server and Windows workstation OSes.

The same is true in the virtualization world. Server virtualization is about taking existing physical servers and converting them to virtual machines. The concept is straightforward, the reasons are straightforward and the ROI model is straightforward. And really, server virtualization is a slam-dunk. It's an "automatic" win that is easy to prove.

The problem is that once the "server virtualization people" win the server virtualization game, they move on looking for other areas to succeed in. (These "people" are both the IT pros and the vendors in the server virtualization space). These administrators quickly realize that there are ten times as many desktops in the world as servers, so they think, "Wow! Virtualizing our servers was such a huge win. Imagine how big our win can be if we virtualize our desktops!"

Unfortunately, the reasons for a "win" when virtualizing servers, primarily consolidation, flexibility and disaster recovery, don't translate well into the desktop space.

On top of that, users have a much more intimate relationship with their desktops than they do to servers. From a user perspective, a "server" is nothing more than some "thing" on the other side of the wall behind the RJ-45 jack. They don't care whether it's a tower, a rack-mounted device, a blade or a VM. But, with their desktops…whoa! (Think about it. Users get upset when you give them a new laptop with a power cord that plugs into the left side versus the old one that had the power cord on the right).

Desktop virtualization is a complex topic. Fortunately, the market is nascent and the technology is evolving quickly; we have time to sort it all out over the next few years. So when you think about desktop virtualization -- be it VDI, terminal server, OS streaming or a client hypervisor -- throw away any notion you have of server virtualization. Approach the desktop with a clean slate and think about what makes sense for your desktop users and their desktop use cases.

Brian Madden, Independent Industry Analyst and Blogger
Brian Madden is known throughout the world as an opinionated, super technical, fiercely independent desktop virtualization expert. He's written several books and over 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Brian's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. Brian is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

Dig Deeper on Virtual desktop management

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.