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Assessing your desktop virtualization needs

Virtual desktops don't bring cost savings, but they offer other benefits. Here's how to assess your organization's needs consider options and costs, and sell management.

Before you jump on the desktop virtualization bandwagon, you need to figure out whether your organization can benefit from the technology. In this first segment of a four-part e-book Desktop Virtualization From A to Z, we'll help you assess whether desktop virtualization is right for your organization.

In today's world of IT, virtualization is supersexy. Now that server virtualization has taken root in almost every production data center, organizations are asking themselves, "What else can we virtualize?" That question may seem like a case of the tail wagging the dog, but a lot of folks have homed in on desktops as their next virtualization target. "Yes, let's virtualize our desktops!" they say.

You may ask, "So we can virtualize our desktops -- now what?" (Or perhaps more fittingly, someone thinks you ought to virtualize desktops, and you're the poor sap who has to sort it out. Mazel tov!)

The logical first step is to work out whether desktop virtualization even makes sense for your organization.

There are many reasons to go down the desktop virtualization path. Most people assume that the whole point of virtual desktops is to save money. But that notion is absolutely false. If you want to save money, just keep doing what you're doing.

This is a tough pill to swallow for those of us coming from server virtualization, where monetary savings drove many organizations to virtualize their data center hardware. But remember, desktops are not servers. They don't run in data centers. It's not quite as simple as following the "rack 'em and stack 'em" mentality to consolidate physical servers into virtual infrastructures.

So if it's not about saving money, why would anyone virtualize desktops? How do you know if you need desktop virtualization? In fact, there are several reasons to virtualize your desktops:

  • High availability. You can run critical desktops with a much higher level of service if you move them into a data center and just give users thin clients.
  • Flexibility. Virtualizing desktops separates your users' instances of Windows from their clients. Virtual desktops can run centrally in data centers, locally on client devices or in environments where the two are used interchangeably.
  • Security. Accessing desktops via a remote display protocol delivers an "eyes only" security environment. No actual data leaves the data center, and a stolen client device won't pose a security threat because it never contains data.
  • Performance. Users in the field often need access to "fat" or data-intensive applications. In cases like this, granting access to apps in the data center via a remoting protocol can create a user experience that's much better than running the application clients directly on an end user's client device.
  • Making young folks think your company is cool. Let's face it: Attracting a smart, young workforce is always a challenge. While many people think that Macs and iPhones are cool, your company probably sticks with BlackBerrys and Windows. But desktop virtualization can let you run corporate Windows desktops as virtual machines directly on Mac laptops. And if that's what it takes to get the kids to think your company is cool, then hurray!
  • Saving money (maybe). OK, so I said previously that desktop virtualization isn't about saving money, and as a rule, that is true. But some companies have been able to save money with desktop virtualization. Most organizations won't save money with the initial capital hardware and software purchase costs. Instead, the savings can come down the road; a virtual desktop environment is usually less costly to manage than are traditional physical desktops.

If any of these reasons apply to you, then explore desktop virtualization further. And if none of these benefits sounds like something your organization needs, then by all means, don't force desktop virtualization on your company.

Of course, this discussion might make more sense if we talked about what desktop virtualization is instead of just focusing on figuring out whether you need it. We'll jump into that in part two of this four-part series next week.

Brian Madden
is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 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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