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Virtualization Set For Desktop Surge In 2009

The push for cost savings will sweep virtualization solutions from VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, and others past the server, onto the desktop and into the cloud.

While server consolidation made enormous gains in 2008, these advances are only the leading edge of changes that will come in the coming year through the virtualization of the enterprise.

Gartner says virtualization will be the No. 1 technology initiative in 2009, a year when more cost savings will be sought with tangible urgency because of the down economy.

IT administrators are likely to get a push from CFOs to realize more savings as fast as they can by moving to desktop virtualization. Virtualizing the desktop will lift off in 2009, but it's still not clear by what method it will be implemented.

Also, 2009 will be the year that management tools bring virtual machine sprawl and unrestrained VM life cycles under control -- IT will locate that invisible, running VM and shut it down. A special class of tools will grow up to handle the heterogeneous hypervisor environment, still a novelty at most enterprises, but sure to appear more frequently as Windows Server 2008 seeds data centers everywhere with free Hyper-V.

And cloud computing will bloom both inside and outside the enterprise in 2009. VMware's nomenclature for a "data center operating system" is just another way of saying the virtualization software layer can create and manage an internal cloud.

Desktop Virtualization On The Leading Edge

But desktop virtualization remains the most promising green field, ripe for huge cost savings.

It sounds simple. Just replace expensive hardware and software applications with a VM and forget about the need to repeatedly invest in upgrades. But virtual desktops are no easy problem to solve. Duplicating an exact copy of everyone's desktop on a data center server is expensive in itself, generating huge storage requirements.

VMware, Citrix, and other vendors are saying not to do that. Keep one master copy of the operating system used by the enterprise and create a golden image of it, from which every VM will be minted. Instead of 10,000 end-user operating systems on a central storage facility, you'll store just one.

Likewise for applications. Then you can create profiles of employee groups, with specifications of their various needs, and clone variations of the golden image to equip each group.

To make such an approach work, you will need a highly scalable connection broker, authentication, and provisioning servers that will bite into alleged savings. It may be that thousands of end users want to be provisioned between 8:55 a.m. and 9:05 a.m. Better not be slower than the foot-dragging Windows startup time or risk a user revolt. And once so equipped, how do users disconnect from the network and take their virtual desktop on the road?

In short, desktop virtualization is fraught with political as well as technical hazards that can make savings disappear.

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