Applying virtualization technologies to corporate PC infrastructures can offer enterprises a way out of the unmanaged PC mess; help them cut upgrade, support and maintenance costs; eliminate application conflicts; improve business continuity and data security; speed application development and rollouts; and provide workers anytime/anywhere access to their desktops.
What if you could make everything you hate about your corporate PCs go away? The impossibility of managing them in the face of users' unauthorized application and MP3 downloads; the three-year refresh cycles; the endless testing to ensure that applications will play nicely together; the concerns over critical corporate data residing unsecured on employees' notebooks; the loss of productivity when systems take a nosedive?
Businesses are taking a closer look at how desktop and application virtualization technologies can have an impact on all these areas. And none too soon: Support and maintenance accounts for 80 percent of PCs' total cost of ownership, experts say, and 5 percent of systems experience a hardware failure in their first year on the job.
Still, CIOs may face one or more challenges: End users may object to changing out PCs for thin clients; IT may have to sort out Windows usage issues, given the one-to-one relationship between hardware and OEM Windows licenses; and infrastructure teams will have to make sure server platforms are robust enough to run multiple virtual PCs and that network bandwidth is managed to mitigate latency and quality of service problems. But given the promises of less expense and complexity and more agility and adaptability, these technologies represent the future for a growing number of companies.
Desktop and application virtualization deployments will grow by 28 percent and 24 percent, respectively, according to a 2006 Enterprise Management Associates survey. Indeed, before the decade's out, Microsoft is expected to add a hypervisor to Windows Vista, effectively putting a desktop virtualization platform into the box.
"Our idea is to have virtual services running virtual applications on a virtual OSto be a 100 percent virtualized shop; that is where the industry and the market are progressing," says Scott Butcher, vice president and application integration manager of Bank of America Corp.'s Global Trading Infrastructure Trading Desktop Support group.
The company is evaluating desktop virtualization options, and has already virtualized more than 70 of its 5,000 applications. "Within the next year, we expect almost every single one of our applications to be virtualized," Butcher says. He plans over the next few months to determine cost savings from the effort.
Generally, desktop virtualization can be defined as a PC environment in which componentsincluding operating systems and applicationsexecute in a protected area, isolated from the underlying hardware and software platform, says Natalie Lambert, a research analyst at IT advisor Forrester Research. Forms of desktop virtualization include hosted desktops, where desktop environments are hosted remotely in a data center, either on a server (using Windows Terminal Services or virtual machines) or blade PC; and desktop virtualization platforms, where virtual machines are hosted directly on users' PCs.
Application virtualization, where an application communicates with the host operating system through a virtualization layer, provides a way for businesses to execute an application in isolation. Coupled typically with application streaming as a software deployment mechanism, it lets users get the applications they need on demand wherever they are. With streaming, users can access cached applications even when they're not connected to a network.
To date, it's been more likely for organizations to deploy one of these technologies to satisfy niche requirements:
- A financial services company might assign blade PCs to its high-powered users, such as traders who require secure but dedicated hardware, and who might otherwise run applications on multiple boxes under their desks.
- Another company might give access to a server-based application in a shared desktop environment via Windows Terminal Services to limited-task workers, like call center employees, using thin clients.
- Techies might use a desktop virtualization platform (aka hosted virtualization) to run multiple operating systems simultaneously in virtual machines on a single system for testing scenarios.
- Another organization might deploy application virtualization to address specific pain points, such as letting users run two different versions of the same program on their PCs.
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