June 4, 2010
Desktop virtualization sounds like a simple follow-on to server virtualization. You put a hypervisor on the desktop, the way you did on the data center server, and run virtualized applications under it, right?
Well, no. As anyone who has taken this on knows, virtualizing the desktop is an entirely different breed of cat. Understanding it starts with the user--not focusing on the device that you're virtualizing. You need a desktop virtualization strategy that can follow employees around, regardless of where they are or the machines they're using. That, admittedly, isn't easy to implement.
IT teams that focus on devices and not people will eventually find themselves, after considerable expense, enmeshed in a series of moving parts that don't work well together. The predicted savings that came so readily on servers won't materialize.
Say, for example, that you initiate desktop virtualization with a standard desktop environment in mind. Once the first high-ranking power user complains, you're forced to customize his or her desktop, and the customization disease spreads faster than dengue fever. Your grand plan to serve all employees with a few master desktops is gone, and now you're storing a thousand custom desktops every night. The storage requirements alone eat up anticipated savings.
Or, you play hardball and define only a few roles, into which everyone must fit, each with a single master desktop. That keeps storage costs down--yet earns IT a reputation for being inflexible and out of touch.
A (seemingly) more savvy IT manager elicits role definitions from employees and lets them classify themselves, leading to more contented users. That is, until people need to travel, and IT gets bombarded with questions with no good answers. Yes, they can use the old Office software on the laptop. But if they're looking for Excel spreadsheets they started while connecting to the network, that data's in the data center, not their machines.
Success in virtualizing desktops in the office turns into a liability as people go mobile. You'll need to provide mobile PC access, using a hypervisor on the machine for offline access that syncs to existing data the next time the machine hits the corporate network.
Done? Maybe, until employees stream back into the office after the holidays with new iPhones and Droids, and there's another strain of dengue fever running wild. If they use so many consumer apps on their phones, why can't they get to their virtual desktops from those same devices? Oh, and about this iPad ...
The device options are only going to multiply. Thus, as part of your desktop virtualization strategy, you'll want to empower end users to do as much of the provisioning and maintenance themselves as possible. Your plan must enable the disconnected user.
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