Desktop Virtualisation

by Martin Atherton and Jon Collins

It is early days for virtualisation in the desktop realm, but already there are some important lessons to be learned from organisations which have incorporated it into their IT strategy. This report provides a view of the latest state of play and offers up some practical advice to anyone considering how and where desktop virtualisation may benefit their organisation.


Virtualisation is here, but we’re not all on the same page yet.
Research carried out with readers of The Register tells us that virtualisation has permeated into the consciousness of the mainstream IT user and buyer community. However, as we move from x86 server to desktop virtualisation we find varying levels of understanding. ‘Desktop virtualisation’ can be taken to mean client partitioning, ‘traditional’ Windows Terminal or Citrix-based thin client activity or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

The benefits of desktop virtualisation are as advertised.
Virtualised desktops address some of the major IT department’s headaches, namely securing and provisioning desktops. The relative happiness of business management and impact on end-users’ productivity is seen as less of a benefit. These, and cost, are tricky to gauge at a generic level and must be considered in relation to your existing desktop environment.

Desktop virtualisation needs a ‘horses for courses’ approach.
Significant differences exist in uptake of the different flavours of desktop virtualisation, for example in VDI the shared-server approach is more prevalent than ‘one server per client’. It is likely that more organisations will seek the economies of scale offered by the shared server approach than those looking at the one server per desktop approach to deliver ‘higher performance’ desktops. However, there will be situations where centralising the management and other operational elements of a desktop estate by employing a one server per desktop approach are appropriate.

Selective targeting removes some of the major blockers to desktop virtualisation.
Understanding the requirements from an end-user and operational management perspective, and targeting the right audience for a roll out are critical success factors. Power users, creative staff and highly mobile professionals can represent a challenge from a performance, requirements fulfilment and satisfaction perspective. However, the needs of transaction workers and general professional users with lighter and more predictable requirements can benefit from the standardisation benefits of desktop virtualization. With such groups typically accounting for a high proportion of the user base, there is a clear opportunity to deploy virtual desktops selectively.

Early best practice: be sure to build a complete business case.
It is very early days for desktop virtualisation. Uptake could be hampered in many organisations if collateral impact and costs in areas such as the server, storage and network infrastructure are not fully understood and factored in alongside solution acquisition and roll out costs. The relative importance of all these areas depends very much on your own existing desktop and broader IT infrastructure.

The research upon which this report is based was designed, executed and interpreted independently by Freeform Dynamics. Feedback was gathered via an online survey of 137 IT professionals from the UK, USA, and other geographies. The study was sponsored by Microsoft.

Content Contributors: Martin Atherton & Jon Collins

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