Desktop Virtualization: What's Stopping You?

Citrix buys a scrappy startup as it tries to convince more enterprises that desktop virtualization doesn't always equal painful compromise. Are you still waiting?
InformationWeek Now--What's Hot Right Now
If server virtualization was the flashy superstar who enjoyed a quick rise to fame, desktop virtualization is the smart supporting actor who is still struggling. Many industry analysts declared 2010 would be the year desktop virtualization took off in the enterprise, but that never came to pass. Even today, a multitude of virtual desktop flavors and hard-to-compare specs and offerings continue to frustrate enterprise IT managers. Others have elected to wait until their planned Windows 7 rollouts, and use Microsoft tools.

Citrix Systems retains its leadership spot in this market, but still must convince enterprise IT that its approach to desktop virtualization tops that of archrival VMware and smaller competitors. An acquisition the company made Wednesday could help.

Citrix bought startup RingCube Technologies, to add some capability to its XenDesktop product line, as's Charles Babcock reports. Citrix hopes the technology will help its customers avoid one painful compromise some desktop virtualization approaches require--choosing between individualized desktops that lead to high storage costs, or homogenized desktops that users will groan about.

Read Babcock's article for a look at exactly how the RingCube technology creatively solves the storage problem.

The mere term "virtual desktop" makes some users nervous or even angry, stirring visions of the bad old days, of desktops that you can't customize or control enough. Perhaps IT leaders can take a lesson here from Indiana University's IT staff, in the middle of a huge desktop virtualization project using Citrix technology, affecting 100,000 end users by fall 2012. As Babcock reported recently, "the IT staff borrowed lessons from Apple's approach to--and terminology for--consumers. It called its virtualization initiative 'a personal cloud' and dubbed it IUAnyWare."

The budget pressure can be more extreme in small-to-midsize companies' IT groups, forcing the desktop virtualization matter sooner. Consider the desktop virtualization story of Infinity Sales Group, the largest independent dealer of DISH Network's satellite television service, as's Kevin Casey reports.

The company elected to move all of its employees to virtual desktops, using Pano Logic's zero clients and VMware technology. Growing from 80 employees in 2009 to 460 today, the company faced escalating hardware and power costs and its IT staff was already stretched, said Chuck Matulick, VP of IT.

"The company had two dedicated desktop people who basically spent all day running around taking care of PC issues," Matulik said. "As [Infinity was] growing, they were like: Man, we don't want to do it like this going forward." That's part of what Citrix is betting on.

But Matulik brought up another issue with desktop virtualization that has been a hurdle right along--proving ROI on the proposed project. He says he thinks many companies walk away because they don't go far enough in their analysis.

"VDI is not free. It is a cost savings, but there is an investment that you have to make," Matulik said. "There is an ROI that comes--it can come in terms of support, it can come in terms of power--but a lot of IT people don't work with facilities to calculate those savings."

What's stopping you from adopting desktop virtualization? Difficulty sorting through the field of options? Proving ROI? Fear of how users will react? Windows 7 plans? Let's hear it.

Laurianne McLaughlin is editor-in-chief for Follow her on Twitter at @lmclaughlin.

InformationWeek Analytics has published a report on backing up VM disk files and building a resilient infrastructure that can tolerate hardware and software failures. After all, what's the point of constructing a virtualized infrastructure without a plan to keep systems up and running in case of a glitch--or outright disaster? Download the report now. (Free registration required.)

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing