Desktop Virtualization Is Starting to Expand

News Analysis: More companies and their customers are finding new ways to utilize desktop virtualization, which Gartner predicts could start outpacing server virtualization in the coming years.

With virtualization fairly well established in the data center as a way to squeeze more out of x86 servers, top vendors, industry watchers and customers have started to turn more attention to getting that same type of potential out of the desktop.

A little more than a year ago, desktop virtualization seemed more of a concept than a reality. Now, experts say, the potential is there for the technology to take off with vendors—notably VMware—offering software packages that look to better manage desktops as well as laptops.

On the other side, virtualization is being used by vendors like NEC and IBM as part of all-encompassing software and hardware packages that aim to rethink how a companys fleet of PCs can be better controlled through a server-based solution using thin client computers.

Earlier this year, NEC had started to leverage its own hardware know-how with VMwares virtualization technology to offer a one-stop thin client and infrastructure solution. IBM expanded its Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure product with a new blade offering and thin clients from Devon IT. ClearCube, a long-time developer of server-based computing technology, recently offered an update of its management software suite that includes new virtualization capabilities.

All these developments also come at a time when VMware, considered the leader in virtualization technology, released the full version of its ACE 2 software May 15 that offers a number of improvements in its ability to virtualize individual desktops and notebooks.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about what experts were saying about virtualization in 2006.

While all these various ideas have started to come into focus, the question remains of how long it will take for desktop virtualization to reach its full potential.

While a May 8 report by Gartner did not offer a firm timeline, it did point to the potential of the technology to reshape the IT landscape just within a few years. The reported found that while there were only 540,000 virtual machines at the end of 2006, there is a potential for more than 4 million by 2009. Desktop virtualization, the report claims, has the potential to outstrip server virtualization, especially when companies look for ways to better manage IT infrastructure.

Although some industry watchers believe that the full potential of desktop virtualization will not arrive until software makers start creating applications to take full advantage of the technology, some users have found creative ways of using virtualization right now.

At Canadian Blood Services in Ottawa, David Zavitske, a technical support analyst, said the organization has been using a combination of VMwares ACE 2 software to control a fleet of about 300 Lenovo ThinkPad T60 notebooks that go out each day with its mobile centers.

At the start of the day, the laptops are sent out with a virtual image created by the IT department using VMwares Pocket ACE feature. Once the patient information is collected throughout the day, the data is stored in an encrypted hard drive and the virtual image is removed and reinstalled the next day.

"There were so many possibilities for us using this but this really caught our eye and it just make a lot of sense when you think about the amount of regulations we have to deal with," Zavitske said.

Next Page: Desktop virtualization has its drawbacks.