Virtualized Desktops The Next IT Challenge - InformationWeek
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Charles Babcock
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Virtualized Desktops The Next IT Challenge

As consumerization of IT takes hold and more employees want to bring their own computers to work, Interop 2011 explores the strategies for developing a standard virtualized desktop.

Virtualization accomplished so much in consolidating servers in the data center during the last four years that many observers assumed it would next sweep through end user desktop computing. But instead, it stalled for the most part, while still idling at the gates.

End user computing proved a more finicky and demanding nut to crack than virtualization advocates first thought. Now, however, desktop virtualization is maturing. It's starting to be able to recognize the nature of the device on which it will display a desktop, whether it's a full PC or a tablet. And virtual desktop infrastructure, the managed environment in which virtual desktops operate, is coming into focus as the solution to a whole set of problems that confronts IT. End user devices are threatening to proliferate. Desktop virtualization may be one of the few answers.

The Virtualization session track at Interop 2011 will feature a panel May 11 at 2 p.m. on the bring your own computer (BYOC) phenomenon, where new employees bring the computer they wish to use rather than get one from their employer that IT wishes to support. And in some cases, the computer they wish to use, in part, is an Apple iPhone, an iPad tablet, or a RIM BlackBerry smartphone.

The session is called, "The new Desktop (BYOC): Choosing and Supporting Devices for Virtual Desktops and Applications." Virtualizaton vendor Citrix Systems has been an early implementer of the BYOC idea, with the intent of serving as a testbed for the desktop virtualization it offers its customers. Seated on the panel will be Sumit Dhawan, VP and general manager of Citrix's receiver and end user services group. Receiver is Citrix's answer for what to do when end users disconnect from the central server where their virtual desktop is running.

When I last spoke with Dhawan, he was describing how the XenVault, a plug-in for Receiver, can store end users' data in an encrypted file on their laptops while they're disconnected from the network. Receiver works with a client hypervisor, XenClient, to keep an individual's desktop running in a virtual machine during the disconnected period. When the laptop or other client is linked back into the network, Receiver ensures that any new data created synchronizes with all data available to the virtual desktop. VMware also offers a client hypervisor and disconnected user product, VMware View. Dhawan recently said Citrix has over 100 customer who have virtualized at least 1,000 end users using its approach.

But Dhawan won't be the only representative of active end user virtualization on the panel. With Dhawan will be Jeff McNaught, chief marketing and strategy officer at Wyse. That company makes a virtual desktop protocol for its thin clients, TCX, that sits on top of Citrix's HDX desktop virtualization protocol. TCX on Wyse high-end thin clients adds faster video, webcam output, and multi-casting to HDX. These specialized protocols are needed in desktop virtualization because the standard protocol for a remote client, say Microsoft's RDP, is too slow to attractively show full-motion video, animations, or multimedia in the way that users of powerful desktops have become accustomed.

Virtualization managers know instinctively that end users won't accept a downgrading of their environment just to accomplish IT's virtualization goals. That's been one of the brakes on accomplishing end user virtualization. Dhawan and McNaught will address that point as part of the panel.

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