The Virtual Desktop

The current crop of desktop virtualization products can solve thorny problems. 

With the dramatic cost savings and management benefits that server virtualization delivers for enterprises, just about every IT problem area is starting to be cast as yet another nail to be driven by the hammer of virtualization.

The IT industry's largest vendors are scrambling to outfit enterprises with a virtualization tool for every occasion. And, as illustrated by Microsoft's recent purchase of Kidaro, these vendors are betting that the desktop is the next IT trouble area to receive the virtual treatment.

Read more here about Microsoft's purchase of Kidaro.

Sure enough, desktop management is one of the thorniest and most thankless tasks with which IT departments are charged. Administrators must provide their users with secure, reliable access to a desktop environment that includes the applications that users require to get their work done.

This application security and availability mandate requires that administrators keep a motley assortment of hardware and software platforms up-to-date and in proper working order. Worse, these systems may reside outside the company premises, lack reliable network connectivity or even belong to partner companies, part-time contractors or individual workers.

I'm defining desktop virtualization as the products and services that separate the client software environment from the client hardware environment-whether that's through server-based computing on Microsoft's Terminal Services or Citrix Systems; running multiple operating system instances on something such as VMware ESX Server; or running a desktop environment in a virtual instance within your client hardware, which is the approach that Kidaro pursues.

NComputing's desktop virtualization solution taps commodity PCs' unused power. Learn more here.

Each of these three major classes of desktop virtualization comes with its own benefits, drawbacks and level of maturity.

However, considering the differences among typical servers and desktops, it's unlikely that desktop virtualization-in any of its forms-will deliver the same breadth of management benefits that server virtualization products such as VMware ESX Server and Citrix XenServer offer.

With servers, network connectivity is a given-a disconnected server is practically worthless-but no such assumption can be made with client hardware, which is useful even when it's offline. What's more, servers tend to follow a one-application-per-machine model, which typically results in the sort of low use that lends itself well to consolidating multiple servers onto a single piece of hardware. Desktops and notebooks, on the other hand, carry multiple applications and arguably less predictable use patterns.

But, while desktop virtualization is not a cure-all, the current crop of desktop virtualization products can, if used properly, help solve some tricky desktop management problems.