What is Desktop Virtualisation?

A virtual desktop environment is a system whereby rather than a user being to access their normal (computer) environment from their PC, it is accessed via the Internet using outside and separate resources. This means that when users work from remotely, their programmes, applications, processes and data will not be held locally (upon their PC) but centrally on servers and storage that might be located anywhere across the globe.

What does that mean to me and my personnel?

It means in simple terms that you will be able to access your data, applications and other resources regardless of where you are located. As long as you have Internet access, you’ll be able to access that information.

Why consider desktop virtualisation?

With the current and depressed economic climate likely to continue for a while longer yet, a major reason for an organisation to use a desktop virtualisation system is to save costs by reducing the need to purchase more hardware, to reduce energy consumption and to create greater efficiencies. For example, a user may run several virtual desktops in one ‘session’

What are some of the benefits?

There are many benefits but some are outlined below:

  • Potentially lower hardware costs because resources such as servers can be centralise and shared and utilised amongst many users.
  • Lower maintenance costs – if fewer servers are required, then there will be a positive impact on maintenance costs.
  • Reduced storage requirements.  Rather than purchasing more storage, it is possible to maximise and use a number of computers’ storage facilities that are underutilised.
  • Reduced space.  Organisations that have many servers and storage (normally within a dedicated room), can reduce the need for such expensive facilities.
  • Greater (centralised) Control. Using a desktop virtualised environment means that control resides where the physical servers are located. This means that it becomes more difficult for users to add new programmes and applications to ‘their’ own system which might cause conflicts or issues within differing types and levels of applications.

Is it viable for a small company?

There are some excellent systems for the smaller business but care and diligence should be taken before making a purchase order. While the view has been expressed that virtual desktop environments are more often than not useful for large scale companies there is still a place for this technology for smaller companies.

How much will it cost to virtualize my desktops?

It varies. A recent report by Forrester Research analysts found that enterprises spend about £550 per user, plus network upgrades, to get a desktop virtualization project up and running in the first year. If all goes well, desktop virtualization should eventually pay for itself and provide long-term cost savings, but the time to ROI can be anywhere from six months to a few years.

What new desktop virtualization technologies are in development?

The biggest development is the emergence of bare-metal hypervisors, a kind of local desktop virtualization that installs the hypervisor on top of the PC’s operating system. They are not widely available, but they will provide better security than Type 2 hypervisors, because the bare-metal type runs independently of the client operating system, and deliver better performance than hosted desktops, because applications run on the local client instead of a remote server.

Are all desktop virtualization products pretty much the same?

No. generally there are two types: Local desktop virtualization, which runs the whole desktop environment in a protected “bubble” on the user’s computer; and hosted desktop virtualization, which stores the users’ desktops in the data center on a server. This requires the user to access their desktop images through a network connection, something we are all familiar with.

Three caveats for desktop virtualisation

1.   Watch the network – When network performance problems appear, they can have a negative impact, especially for centrally hosted Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) situations.  The most important thing is that if you don’t own the network, you need to be talking to the network people. They need to understand what you’re going to do and what impact that will have. If you don’t, you can run into trouble.

2.   Prepare for some management challenges – The evolving desktop environments can include VMware VDI, traditional Wyse thin clients and regular desktops — which makes management tough given the potential for three or more separate management consoles. It can be a nightmare putting reports together for senior executives on what is being used and what is being done. End customers have often built their own management tools to work with multiple virtualisation technologies.

3.   Anticipate security unknowns – Centralised desktop images might seem easier to secure than traditional, physical desktop setups, but they may hold unknown risks. Hackers aren’t going after virtual PCs and virtual servers yet, because there isn’t a big enough bang for their money. But as more environments go virtualized, they’ll make that shift so beware; security issues can be just around the corner.