Desktop Virtualization Drives Security, Not Just Dollar Savings
Sign On The Dotted Line
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SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE
Given all this security goodness, you might wonder why companies aren't signing up for VDI in droves. Some are. In "How Merrill Lynch Plans To Virtualize Half Its Desktops", we explore how Merrill Lynch is building a virtual infrastructure, and we recently profiled Cincinnati Bell's client virtualization initiative (see "Cincinnati Bell Sees Desktop Virtualization As Cost Saver And Profit Maker").
The success of a VDI pitch depends largely on how well the IT team tailors it to business priorities; how much you've spent on technologies, including disk encryption, to stave off the security risks inherent in your existing desktop infrastructure; and how much application disruption you're willing to endure.
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Companies need to examine whether virtual desktop infrastructure will buy them enough benefit in terms of management, flexibility, and decreased risk that it's worth using now. VDI is just now making headlines, but this isn't bleeding-edge technology so much as a twist on a proven platform. The sticking point is that the typical enterprise has so much invested in the physical desktop infrastructure and the processes that surround this manner of deployment, it's hard to change course.
Going forward, the way to answer the question of how to justify the expense is to ask how you can justify continuing to deploy security-challenged physical desktops. At some point, this technology will reach critical mass, and you'll lose your competitive edge because of time spent continuing inefficient practices. The ability to preserve the application environment, provision users faster, increase security, and extend the hardware life cycle make for a pretty persuasive argument for VDI.
We've operated for too long in the "security or manageability, pick one" mentality. If you adopt VDI right now, with existing hardware, you'll gain manageability, lower your total cost of ownership, and benefit from a more secure desktop environment, even without hardware-assisted virtualization. Intel says that its vPro embedded hardware management technology will reduce desk-side visits for software and hardware issues by as much as 56%. But the catch is, vPro must be pervasive across the company.
Certainly your developers will benefit from running multiple isolated virtual machines. Highly secure environments that have typically required separate networks and desktops for secure vs. nonsecure work will derive tremendous value as well. However, the concept of issuing offline VMs, particularly for mobile users, will require a fair amount of work to bring to fruition; we don't yet see a commensurate return. First, deal with the most painful and expensive problem--sprawling, unsecure, unmanaged desktops--before making the foray into complicated offline VDI.
Not quite ready? You won't go wrong letting this technology bake a bit longer. It's just a matter of time until Intel's vPro and AMD's Execute Disabled and No Execute memory protection schemes become standards in hardware instead of enhancements, and pricing for the software leaders falls.
But make no mistake: VDI--and virtualization in general--is the future. In 18 to 24 months, a full-on explosion of virtualization options will sweep through the market. The question is, will you be flying high on top of the curve, or grounded under the weight of securing fat desktops?
Jonathan Berdyck is an InformationWeek contributor. He manages a team of IT analysts for a health care provider in western Pennsylvania and holds a master's degree from Carnegie Mellon University. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Merrill Lynch Plans To Virtualize Half Its Desktops