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Despite improvements, VDI adoption remains glacial at best

For enterprises, virtual desktop technology still needs a lot of work before widespread adoption is possible. IT shops want less complexity and lower cost.

Advances in desktop virtualization technologies and recent licensing improvements made many industry insiders optimistic about desktop virtualization in 2010. But high infrastructure costs and complexity still prevent many enterprises from installing virtual desktops.

The 2010 Virtualization Decisions Purchasing Intentions Survey of more than 800 IT professionals conducted by and released last month found that about 44% of IT professionals have no interest in deploying or evaluating desktop virtualization in 2010. About 27% said they are evaluating the technology this year. About 34% of the IT pros said they plan to evaluate or install virtual desktops over the next 12 months.

The number of people with evaluation plans is up from last year, when only about 20% of Virtualization Decisions 2009 survey respondents said they planned to evaluate desktop virtualization that year, and 20% said they planned to give it a look in 2010.

Adoption has increased, but it's a new market. When you are growing from zero market share, there is only one way to go, and that's up.


Mark Margevicius
AnalystGartner Inc.

Of those who already moved to virtual desktops, 11% said they deployed it in some departments, and only 3% rolled out virtual desktops companywide last year. About 67% of adopters made their moves in the name of management benefits, and 61% said they virtualized to make upgrading to a new desktop operating system simpler.

Steve Greenberg, founder of virtualization products and services company Thin Client Computing in Scottsdale, Ariz., said the problem with virtual desktops is the same as with technologies such as thin clients -- it's a great idea, but "the reality is far from the promise." He said desktop virtualization is still too complicated and expensive for enterprise IT to justify.

His assessment matches the survey results: 21% of IT pros haven't deployed virtual desktops blame complexity, and over 32% said it is too expensive. In addition, 23% of those surveyed said their existing servers can't support deploying desktops as virtual machines.

There are other deal-breakers as well. For instance, Eugene Alfaro, an IT operations and support manager at Simpson Strong-Tie in Pleasanton, Calif., uses Citrix XenApp to deliver desktops to the construction product company's 3,000 end users, but he hasn't made the transition to XenDesktop because of its lack of portability.

"Going from XenApp as a virtual desktop platform to XenDesktop yields few benefits," Alfaro said. "It is not until XenDesktop allows for offline, portable use and a seamless transition from using the resources on the local host to the data center do we see the benefits outweighing the cost of transitioning."

Adoption to increase as VDI technologies improve
Both Citrix Systems and VMware have improved their virtual desktop products recently, addressing some of biggest stumbling blocks.

For instance, VMware added offline support with a Type 2 client hypervisor in View 4.5 and added support for tiered storage to help lower storage costs. The company will also provide an end-user application portal for Software as a Service (SaaS) and internal apps when its Project Horizon strategy comes to fruition sometime next year. VMware also promises to add profile management in the next version of View.

Citrix made major changes to XenDesktop this month with offline support via the XenClient client hypervisor, improvements to its HDX protocol and an updated version of its application portal Dazzle, now called Citrix Receiver, to let users access internal applications and SaaS-based apps with a single sign-on.

Citrix also addressed complexity issues in XenDesktop by adding wizard tools to Version 5 that it said should make installations more intuitive and faster.

Those enhancements have folks like Alfaro moving forward. He'll be testing XenDesktop 5 next month with a aggressive pilot deployment and usage plan.

Despite improvements, the market is still young, and adoption will continue to move at a glacial pace. In fact, Greenberg, whose business depends on virtual desktop adoption, said he doesn't expect virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to find its full and proper place in the market for another five to 10 years.

Gartner Inc. estimates that there are 3 million to 4 million virtual desktops in production today and predicts that there will be up to 4.5 million by the end of this year, growing to 50 million by 2014. Though that number sounds big, 50 million still represents only about 10% of the market, said Gartner client computing analyst Mark Margevicius .

"Adoption has increased, but it is a new market," Margevicius said. "When you are growing from zero market share, there is only one way to go, and that's up."

Improvements continue to drive desktop virtualization adoption, but virtual desktops won't benefit every company. Even with the technology advancements this year, there are still several barriers to adoption, with affordability being the biggest.

"You still have to pay more than you would for a PC for this stuff, and it doesn't necessarily solve customer issues," Margevicius said. "People think that by virtualizing, all the woes of desktop computing will be solved, but you still have to figure out management. You have to segment users, offer support, lock down desktops and create user profiles. It doesn't take any of that away; it is simply a different approach."

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

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