But the time seems right for CIOs to explore the possibility of providing a virtualized computing experience—in whatever form—to a larger swath of their end users. Hosted desktop virtualization based on virtual machines raises the bar on personalization and performance, for instance, making it a more attractive option for heterogeneous office workers and administrators than traditional server-based computing. "Companies are thinking that the equipment that has to be maintained at the desktop can be very simple—a thin client, or it can be a PC that just runs remote desktop access—so they'll save on desktop hardware costs, and maintenance costs, plus they can bring the same kind of availability and functionality to a virtual PC as they did to the [virtual] server," says John Sloan, an Info-Tech Research Group senior research analyst. Virtual machines can be moved from one box to another for high availability, for example.
Similarly, the move by vendors to deliver desktop virtualization platforms (or hosted virtualization) with manageability features makes this an intriguing option for those who need to quickly provide mobile and contract knowledge workers with a secure, corporate-approved desktop. "While that [virtual machine] image has all the attributes of a PC, it is actually a file, so you can drag it to any portable media," says Forrester's Lambert. These virtual machines can be deployed with corporate-approved applications and other requirements, as well as encryption, kill switches and policies that ensure that any virtual machines accessing corporate resources are up to spec in terms of virus protection and other features. Once deployed, IT doesn't have to worry about anything that goes on the PC outside the virtual machine. But when there's differentiated ownershipas there might be if a contractor uses an outside PC for a jobIT will have to purchase another Windows license from a retailer for the virtual machines it will be deploying.
Hosted virtualization may even end today's endless investment of IT's time and energy in trying to standardize hardware configurations. "When standardization is no longer a factor of hardware but of how you install software on [that hardware], then today's effort in stable platforms, in configuration stability and so on will become redundant," says Brian Gammage, a vice president and fellow at IT advisor Gartner.
Windows Vista migrations may drive more organizations to virtualize their clients or applications as well. Companies can run Vista on hosted desktops in the data center without upgrading client hardware that may not be able to support the new operating system, for example. Or, using a hosted virtualization platform, they could let users run a legacy application on a Windows XP virtual machine residing on a Vista PC. Others may take advantage of application virtualization, to make sure the new operating system image they roll out with their Vista upgrades stays lean and pristine.
But even CIOs not yet moving to Vista may find virtualization valuable for addressing other concerns, including security and compliance. At the U.S. Office of Patent and Trademark, 500 patent examiners are virtualized in two ways: They work at home, and they access their desktops remotely from the agency's data center servers, which use VMware Inc.'s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, based on the company's ESX virtualization technology and running Windows XP.
Their desktop images, including applications and data that used to be on their C drives, now reside on a virtual C drive on a storage area network in the data center. Virtualization removes concerns about home workers' desktops "being out and loose," at the same time that it helps alleviate the problem of releasing applications across multiple boxes, each with its own interdependencies, says Patent Office chief technology officer Griffin Macy.
Businesses that move desktop environments to the data center also may find compliance audits easier, because they've limited copies of data, and restricted its location and access to it.
Ask Your Desktop Support Lead:
How many support calls and desk-side support trips result from application-related problems?
Ask Your Compliance Officer:
What gaps remain to ensure that data is secure and can be accessed only by authorized individuals?