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Enterprises can realize cost and security benefits through desktop virtualization, but only if they have a clear implementation plan.
Desktop virtualization is seeing rapid adoption in the enterprise, as more and more businesses are looking to cut IT administration costs while realizing the security benefits associated with this centralized computing model.
Indeed, Gartner predicts that 60% of enterprises will employ some form of desktop virtualization by 2012, compared to less than 10% as recently as 2008.
One of the catalysts for this uptick is the arrival last year of Windows 7—Microsoft's newest OS is sparking a wave of upgrades, and IT managers are taking the opportunity to simultaneously evaluate alternative architectures.
But experts say tech departments shouldn't rush into desktop virtualization without a carefully drawn roadmap.
"This is not a technology that can be implemented like turning on a light switch," said Sumit Dhawan, director of product marketing for desktop delivery at Citrix Systems, on Monday during an Interop Las Vegas presentation called A Roadmap to Windows 7 with Desktop Virtualization.
"It's more like a journey," said Dhawan. With that, Dhawan laid out a five-step plan that organizations can use as a blueprint for implementing desktop virtualization.
The first step, said Dhawan, is to "start simple." IT departments can see an immediate payoff from desktop virtualization by identifying small groups of workers that present the biggest challenges in terms of desktop management. Such workers might typically include offshore teams or contract employees.
"I wouldn't expect you to do pilots with your executive team," said Dhawan.
Next, organizations may want to consider building a single, virtual desktop image for internal knowledge workers, such as headquarters-based productivity staff, branch office workers, or support center employees.
Another candidate might be a group that's been previously identified as candidates for an upgrade to Windows 7, Dhawan said.
The third step sees IT rolling out virtual desktops to the general workforce. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to consider a hosted service, such as Citrix's FlexCast offering.
In a possible fourth step, enterprises can extend virtualization beyond the so-called four walls by implementing an apps-on-demand model for some workers. While not technically desktop virtualization, apps-on-demand allows key workers to log-in to critical apps from virtually any device, while bypassing the rest of the desktop overhead.
"You don't need to deliver the whole desktop to an iPhone," said Dhawan.
Finally, organizations may want to add local VM technology to their virtualization architecture to allow employees to work offline.
Changes to applications and data are automatically synchronized with their server-side counterparts when the worker logs back in. Such an option might make sense for power users who maintain multiple desktop images or numerous, customized apps.
Regardless of how they get there, a large percentage of enterprises are likely to end up employing desktop virtualization technology, Dhawan predicted. "PC computing as we know it is ripe for a change," he said.
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