How Desktop Virtualization Can Help IT Manage Consumer Devices

Desktop virtualization holds great promise for helping IT departments address the consumerization of IT, but some implementations can be expensive. Here IT analysts discuss the pros and cons of different desktop virtualization implementations geared toward supporting the myriad consumer devices employees use.

By Kevin Fogarty
Fri, July 15, 2011

CIO — If two technology trends were ever made for each other, at least in vendor marketing materials and generically simple diagrams of IT infrastructure, they are the consumerization of IT and desktop virtualization.

Analysts who study desktop virtualization say many of its use cases fit neatly into problem areas that their client companies face, such as the consumerization of IT. End users who insist on using non-standard or unapproved computing devices, such as tablets and iOS or Android smartphones, make demands on the IT department, the remote-access infrastructure and the IT budget, according to Ian Song, research analyst at IDC. When the same user wants to use two, three or four computing devices for different reasons, the situation can quickly get out of hand.

"You're not going to give everyone two or three computers or try to set up your applications and infrastructure to support every device everywhere, no matter what your resources," Song says.

The clearest solution is to create a virtual desktop that runs on a server in the data center but that can be launched, viewed and used as easily by an end user in the office at a traditional computer as by a worker logging in from a PC in a public kiosk or smartphone connecting via open WiFi.

That setup—full-blown virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) implementations—is becoming far more common but will probably never make up the majority of virtual desktops, let alone outnumber traditional physical desktops, according to Chris Wolf, a research vice president at Gartner.

It's by far the most expensive form of virtual desktop—especially compared to streamed or Web-based applications that can be used from tablets, smartphones and other traditional devices that support VPNs or other encrypted connections, Wolf says.

"People tend to talk about desktop virtualization as if it's one solution, or even a set of solutions, but there has always been a range of implementations," he says.

Traditionally, virtual desktops consisted of dumb-terminal, shared-server/shared application setups used in call centers, banks and other transaction-heavy environments in which employees work in shifts and several may use the same machine on the same day.

That's still the most popular implementation, and the least expensive. Other implementations let IT match the functions required by the user with the complexity and cost IT can afford, Wolf says.

Some users might stream to the desktop one application they use only occasionally; others may be set up to choose several applications to be streamed from an internal corporate "app store" or even work full-time on a "desktop" that is actually a virtual machine running on a data-center server—which requires the resource-intensive VDI server setup.

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