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How do you approach desktop virtualization?

Desktop managers and server virtualization managers bring a different world view to the job of virtualizing desktops.

The concept of desktop virtualization -- at least as we define it now -- is relatively recent. Three, maybe four years tops. This means that most, if not all, of us in desktop virtualization come from some other area of IT.

Over the past year or so, it's become clear that people interested in desktop virtualization fall into one of two categories:

  • "Desktop" people: Approach desktop virtualization from the desktop "in" to the datacenter.
  • "Virtualization" people: Approach desktop virtualization from the datacenter "out" to the desktops.

Whether someone is a "desktop" person or a "virtualization" person really affects how he or she perceives and approaches desktop virtualization.

Desktop people are those who are responsible for desktops. Their primary job is to make sure users can access their desktops, applications and data. Desktop people understand the, umm, eccentricities of users and the importance of wallpaper. They spend their days making applications work, pushing out patches and dealing with profile corruption and printing.

Virtualization people are today's "server people." They're the folks who spend their days thinking about servers and racks and U's and power and image management and how to keep all their VMs identical.

In terms of desktop virtualization, both desktop people and virtualization people want to virtualize desktops. Desktop people look at benefits like image and patch management, decoupling of Windows instances from client hardware and ease of data access and think, "Yes, we want desktop virtualization!"

Virtualization people think, "Wow! Look at the great job we did consolidating and virtualizing all of our servers. Now how can we extend the same benefits out to our desktops!"

So both groups want the same thing, but for two very different reasons. This means that they approach the process of virtualizing desktops in very different ways. Desktop people think about printing and profiles and the user experience and VM performance. Server people think about how they can make all the users the same and image management and cramming as many users onto a server as possible.

So who will win? How will you balance out the "desktop versus virtualization" initiatives in your own environment?

Luckily we have some precedence, thanks to Citrix and Terminal server. I would guess that just about every single company evaluating desktop virtualization already has some Terminal Server or Citrix in their environment. And this was the first technology that bridged the desktop-to-server gap (since we were delivering a desktop experience from a server). So if you find yourself in a similar position, where you're trying to figure out how to approach and who should own the desktop virtualization initiatives in your organization, think about how you handled Citrix and Terminal Server, and then think about what worked and what didn't with those initiatives.

By the way, I personally started my career on the helpdesk and then worked my way up to desktop tech. That naturally led to me becoming a desktop architect which is where I got involved in Citrix (back in 1997 via WinFrame). So of course, I think that approach is the best! What about you?

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.

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