Desktop virtualisation: Myths jar with realities

Vendors have been pushing desktop virtualisation hard over the course of the past year. So to give IT professionals a better picture of what’s really going on in this field, Freeform Dynamics recently published a report looking at the overall state of desktop virtualisation adoption and how far expectations measure up to the experiences of those who have already undertaken projects.

Over recent months, each of the major approaches to desktop virtualisation has continued to mature, especially in terms of reliability and usability. The same cannot be said for the overall level of understanding among organisations of the options available and their suitability for deployment to support various user requirements.

Desktop virtualisation is not a point solution or indeed a single architectural approach. That fact has not been well communicated by vendors and their channel partners to the IT community. It is fair to say that organisations have a poor grasp of the possible approaches and their suitability.

But while the overall levels of understanding remain low, it is interesting that the views of IT managers with practical experience of the technology are strikingly different in some important areas from those who have yet to deploy any virtualised desktops to end users.

Overestimating associated challenges

The research highlights that in the absence of practical experience, IT professionals tend to underestimate the relevance and value of desktop virtualisation while often overestimating the associated challenges.

In particular, those who have never deployed systems are more likely to discount it as an option for demanding users, even though experienced adopters have often made use of desktop virtualisation in those same scenarios. This finding complements another that suggests organisations yet to undertake projects consistently find it more challenging to make acceptable business cases than those who have already begun to use the technology.

Obstacles to desktop virtualisation

That finding may sound obvious but a deeper look shows that among the inexperienced, the perception is that desktop virtualisation involves significant investment in upfront infrastructure systems, especially servers, storage and networking. The perception is also that the benefits deliverable may be difficult to value in monetary terms. Together, these obstacles can make it difficult to move forward at all with any degree of confidence.

Conversely, organisations that have started to deploy desktop virtualisation have faced these challenges head on, many by seeking to extend the debate. Factors to consider include the impact of enabling modern working practices, such as hotdesking, efficient home and remote working, perhaps coupled with the ability to provide secure access to corporate systems for mobile users.

These factors can have a significant monetary impact when translated into direct savings on real estate and travel, as well as an increased contribution through the associated boosting of end-user productivity. Because these benefits typically surface over extended periods, they can pose challenges when capital budgets are tight.

With so many options available, organisations considering desktop virtualisation, perhaps as part of projects to roll out new desktop and laptop hardware along with Windows 7, have considerable upfront work to undertake beyond that normally associated with desktop refresh projects.

Varying requirements for desktop service

Chief among this work is establishing which types of user exist in the business and how their requirements for desktop service vary. This requirement in turn necessitates having an accurate knowledge of their use of applications and business services, as well as an in-depth understanding of how and where users work and need to access systems.

Only with this core information can managers identify appropriate desktop virtualisation approaches for each class of user. Attempts to roll out inappropriate systems to any group of users could well endanger, or at least significantly delay, the widespread adoption of desktop virtualisation.

Bad news travels fast and discussion of poor initial experiences will spread like wildfire, making further rollouts problematic.

Desktop virtualisation holds great promise, but it adds complexity to the ongoing management of systems and makes it more challenging to ensure that each user group gets appropriate systems. Effort expended here will pay dividends in the short and long terms for the whole business.


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Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.