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Midsize Enterprises Eye Virtualization Progress

At the Midsize Enterprise Summit, CIO interest in server virtualization exceeds interest in desktop virtualization by a wide margin for many reasons.

It seems a simple statement: Virtualization is virtualization. Across the IT industry, though, some virtualization is far more real (and other far more virtual) than others. At the Midsize Enterprise Summit in Boca Raton, Florida, a pre-conference survey showed that virtualization was the leading area of technology interest among attending CIOs, with server virtualization separate from, and leading, desktop virtualization.

The Midsize Enterprise Summit East, produced by TechWeb's sister company, Everything Channel, runs April 18 - 21 in Boca Raton, Fla.

According to Carl Claunch, VP and Distinguished Analyst for Gartner, the disparity has an obvious cause. "The gap today is an artifact of the relative maturity of the technologies. Desktop virtualization is still appearing. The price point is still high, so the deployment rate is low," Claunch said. The gap in interest shown by conference attendees is echoed by gaps in deployment, though not everyone agrees on the roots of that difference.

The Tom Lange Company, based in Springfield, Illinois, is a fresh produce distributor with 26 branch locations in seven countries. Its CIO, Joe Dempich, says that virtualization is a tool he uses in the company's IT infrastructure, to the extent that approximately 80 per cent of the firm's servers have been converted to virtual platforms in the last year.

While he is a fan of the concept of virtualization of desktops as well, Dempich said that only 5 per cent of Tom Lange's desktops have been shifted to a virtual environment. "The challenge is that people really like to keep doing many desktop things locally," Dempich said. "That makes virtualizing the desktop much harder than virtualizing the server."

Claunch said that another reason for the disparity in deployment is the simple number of options for virtual desktop computing. "It's going to be a fragmented world. When we say virtual for desktop it's a number of things that are very different," he said. The models for desktop virtualization include the thin model from years ago in which a server hosts the environment while the presentation is handled by a light-weight terminal in front of the user. Desktop virtualization can also be a hypervisor on a PC running different copies of the operating system.

Claunch said that a third, and growing, definition revolves around a common desktop computing image that is served to each remote device while users keep their personal settings and applications on a USB key that is plugged into the device which they're using.

Regardless of the style of desktop virtualization, Claunch says that the long-term trend will be for desktops to rely as heavily on virtualization as servers now do. The reason for his confidence, he said, is that the reasons for virtualization are compelling. "I think the drivers are less diverse than the solutions. Lowering the administrative effort and burden is one. Even the earliest thin-client solutions were adopted because of the lowered costs of administration," Claunch said.

The other significant driver is control over the enterprise environment. "Making sure the corporate image isn't modified on the corporate side means more control and this is another driver," Claunch said. "The goal of minimizing how much individual software installation and fixing the support staff has to do can be accomplished with the thin client model, by the hypervisor virtual OS model, [or] through a USB key carrying the individual personality -- these are multiple methods but they all achieve the same compelling objective."

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