Chip Makers Pave the Way for Desktop Virtualization

Updated: Virtualization technology is becoming commonplace in servers, but despite its advantages, its arrival on the desktop is at least a year away, experts say.

Virtualization is becoming commonplace in the data center arena, as companies seek to wring more out of their servers. But broad use on the desktop is a year or two away at best, experts say.

Chip makers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have begun paving the way to client-side virtualization—technology that can partition a computer to run multiple different types of software simultaneously—by building their respective virtualization technologies into desktop and notebook processors.

Intel began building its Intel Virtualization Technology into chips in late 2005, and activated the virtualization capabilities of its Xeon server processors earlier in February.

AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., will offer its AMD Virtualization Technology, formerly known as Pacifica, across all of its PC and server processors at midyear.

But the real push wont come until software makers begin releasing applications that can take advantage of virtualization on a desktop or a notebook. Thats still a year or two away, by most accounts.

Virtualization in a desktop environment "is pretty much [only] a concept right now," Raghu Raghuram, vice president of data center and desktop platform products for virtualization software vendor VMware, of Palo Alto, Calif., said during an interview at a recent virtualization conference hosted by analyst firm IDC.

"Thats a trend you might see down the road. Were interested in anything virtualization," Raghuram said, adding that VMware has "good partnerships" with both Intel and AMD.

When virtualization does arrive on the client side, many of the first applications will apply it to PC management tools for corporations, executives from AMD and Intel agreed.

"Management is the next frontier" for desktop virtualization, said Margaret Lewis, director of commercial solutions at AMD in Austin, Texas. "Were starting to see some management applications come from the server" to apply virtualization techniques to clients, she said.

One desktop virtualization scenario could involve using separate partitions for company software and PC management and security tools. Others might include bringing unmanaged network devices under control, such as in offshoring environments.

/zimages/5/28571.gifWhats next for virtualization technology? Better software management. Read more here.

"About a third of all devices on a corporate network are [currently] unmanaged," Raghuram said.

Another use for virtualization of the desktop is to enhance mobility: A user could place a PC image onto a USB storage device and take it along to be uploaded into another PC when needed. "Mobility is a huge benefit of desktop [virtualization]," Raghuram said.

Thus far, some of the early work has focused on bringing virtualization to thin clients and PC blades, server-based settings where resources for multiple end users are housed on back-end servers.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., is using the technology in its Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure in an effort to allow companies to put blade servers to work supporting multiple employees.

Working in conjunction with VMware, Citrix and PC blade pioneer ClearCube, IBM plans to use its BladeCenter blade servers to house the desktop environments of multiple workers, who will access those environments via devices placed on their desks.

VMwares software will be used to virtualize the blades, enabling businesses to host as many as 10 to 15 end users on a single blade, IBM said.

Hewlett-Packards Consolidated Client Infrastructure initiative, in which HP is offering both thin client and PC blade devices, also uses virtualization-like principles in enabling multiple users to access a single server, said Nick van der Zweep, director of virtualization and Integrity server software for HP, based in Palo Alto, Calif.

Meanwhile, VMwares Workstation and ACE applications can enable businesses to use virtualization for specific desktop purposes, such as managing remote users or guest desktop systems.

Next Page: Chip makers work to encourage adoption.