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Selling desktop virtualization to 'traditional' desktop admins

Traditional administrators may feel desktop virtualization is not worth exploring. But these easily integrated desktop virtualization technologies can help you change their minds.

I've been focusing on the benefits of desktop virtualization for more than a year on It's easy to forget that virtual desktops -- in whatever form -- make up only the tiniest sliver of the corporate desktop landscape. The vast majority of desktops are traditional desktops with traditional desktop administrators.

Most organizations don't see desktops as strategic. (Heck, a lot of companies don't even see IT as strategic.) They view desktops as a necessary evil that require care and feeding to keep running.

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And now that Windows XP is more than 8 years old, traditional desktop administrators have gotten their care and feeding routine down pat. So when someone tell them that they need to virtualize their desktops, traditional admins are understandably not jumping up and down with excitement.

So how do we convince them that desktop virtualization is worth exploring?

Rather than trying to get them to see the whole elephant, it's probably best to point out that there are several desktop virtualization technologies that can easily be integrated into their traditional worlds. Let's take a look at a few of these technologies.

Application virtualization
App virtualization is probably the easiest sell to traditional desktop admins. A big part of desktop management is application deployment, and all of the app virtualization products on the market allow admins to deliver apps without having to worry about installation prerequisites or conflicts with other applications.

Application virtualization can be fully integrated with Enhanced s=System Discovery tools such as System Center Configuration Manager or Altiris, or it can replace the standalone installs of traditional apps.

When thinking about app virtualization, look at Microsoft App-V, Citrix XenApp Streaming, VMware ThinApp, Symantec Workspace Virtualization, Endeavors Technologies, Xenocode or InstallFree.

Profile virtualization/user environment management
People have just about given up on Microsoft to "fix" Windows profiles. (And if you're hoping that profiles are fixed in Windows 7, I have bad news for you.) Fortunately, a whole industry has sprung up around "user environment management" or "user profile virtualization." These functions let admins maintain simpler "base" images while giving users the full customizability they need. And they let users "roam" with their settings between environments that would not traditionally be "roamable," like Windows XP to Windows 7 to Terminal Server.

User environment management products include Citrix User Profile Manager, VMware's Virtual Profiles (formerly RTO Software's Virtual Profiles), triCerat's Simplify Suite, RES PowerFuse and Scense.

OS streaming
The idea behind operating system streaming is that client devices boot from network-based preboot execution environment and mount a shared disk image across the LAN instead of booting from their local hard drives. Hundreds or thousands of users can share a single disk image, so updating huge swaths of clients is as simple as patching a single disk image file on a server.

OS streaming is often coupled with client hypervisors (the next item on my list), but it doesn't have to be. You can do a "bare-metal" boot to a streamed OS and get the simplified management benefits today.

OS streaming products include Citrix XenDesktop and Doubletake Flex.

Client hypervisors
As a concept, the client hypervisor might not yet be ready to sell to tradition desktop admins. But it's still worth keeping in mind.

Client hypervisors promise to isolate the OS image from the client hardware, making it easier to deploy Windows to disparate client types. Client hypervisors also take all the management of the client device out of the Windows image, leading to simpler (yet more robust) security, data integrity, backup, etc.

Neocleus and Virtual Computer have client hypervisor offerings on the market today, and Citrix and VMware plan to release products in a few months.

Finally, don't forget about Windows 7
The secret weapon for persuading traditional desktop admins to look at various virtualization techniques is the fact that there is no direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7. So if they're going to have to reinstall Windows from scratch -- which probably means they'll be putting in new hardware -- why not take that opportunity to rethink how desktops are delivered and managed?

The bottom line is that thinking of desktop virtualization as a huge endeavor will just scare people away. But by demonstrating actual value with these technologies, you can slowly introduce virtual desktops just about anywhere.

Brian Madden, Independent Industry Analyst and Blogger
Brian Madden is known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical, fiercely independent desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and over 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden'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. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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