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Will Windows 7 fuel desktop virtualization adoption?

Experts ponder whether the hardware requirements of migrating from XP to Windows 7 will kick-start virtual desktop delivery.

Issues like cost and complexity have prevented desktop virtualization from catching on in Windows shops, but for companies upgrading from Windows XP, the need for new hardware to support Windows 7 could drive interest in virtual desktops.

Some of the major desktop virtualization vendors certainly hope that's true. For example, Citrix Systems and VMware have major desktop virtualization products shipping this quarter, around the same time as Windows 7.

"When IT shops move to Windows 7, all the legacy desktops need upgrading," said Tony Wilburn, a consultant at Betis Group, an Arlington, Va.-based integrator. When they start comparing the costs of 2,000 new desktops versus the cost of 2,000 virtual machines, that's when everyone will start moving toward virtual desktops," he said.

Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group virtualization analyst Chris Wolf agreed. "It makes more economic sense to start down the desktop virtualization path as part of a Windows 7 rollout, at least for information workers," he said.

VDI saves time
But if IT pros look at desktop virtualization as a way to reduce hardware costs -- it probably won't.

"With hosted virtual desktops, the cost of deployment compared to replacing [PCs] is a wash, but it saves money in management," said Martin Ingram, vice president of strategy at AppSense, a New York-based application virtualization software company.

"We haven't been managing PCs very well, and desktop virtualization gives us the ability to do things far more effectively," he said. "So [Windows 7] won't be your father's OS migration, with people buying the same hardware, doing the same thing."

According to Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), a Boulder, Colo.-based consulting firm, 71% of enterprises using endpoint virtualization only save about 17% in overall desktop and application ownership costs -- which includes hardware, software and management expenses.

Though the cost savings is small, rolling out a new desktop OS is much simpler with desktop virtualization, said Andi Mann, an EMA analyst.

"Building out a Windows 7 environment manually is labor-intensive, but doing that with VDI, you can use just one or just a few templates and literally push them out overnight," Mann said. "You can also roll back very easily when there are issues, which there will be, without killing user productivity."

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Desktop virtualization also lets multiple operating systems run side by side, so Windows XP and Windows 7 can be run on one desktop. "This is important to avoid disrupting end users during an upgrade; they can just revert to the old operating system to keep productivity up," Mann said.

Despite some advantages, conservative IT shops will be slow to adopt desktop virtualization, if at all. Mann said the end user (or desktop) virtualization growth rate is about 26%, but "that number is based on a very low starting point."

Ingram said he doesn't expect Windows 7-related desktop virtualization adoption to pick up until the second or third quarter of 2010 -- and those will be the early adopters.

"Desktop virtualization is harder than server [virtualization]. It touches more end users and has a higher potential for risks, and costs," Mann said. "But for those who do it, there is an ROI."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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