IBM Offers Service for Virtualized Desktop Environments

Big Blue's Virtual Infrastructure Access Service will help customers assess, design and deploy server-based computing platforms.

IBM has introduced a new service designed to make it easier for enterprises to bring server-based computing into the workplace.

The Armonk, N.Y., company on Oct. 31 rolled out the Virtual Infrastructure Access Service, in which consultants from IBMs GTS (Global Technology Services) will help end users assess their current client setup, recommend changes and help implement those changes.

The consultants are from the GTS End User Services unit, according to Patricia Bolton, the units chief technology officer.

The goal is to find the most efficient ways for businesses to start benefiting from the various cost savings and security and reliability gains that server-based computing offers, Bolton said.

The new service complements what IBM already offers in this area, Bolton said. IBM last year unveiled its Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure, developed in conjunction with partners such as VMware and Citrix Systems. That program uses virtualization on back-end IBM BladeCenter blade servers to host desktop environments that can be accessed by employees at their computers.

Like thin clients and PC blades, there are multiple benefits, such as the added security of keeping the key components of a desktop—including data, hard drives, processors and memory—in a centrally located area. It also helps streamline the management of software patches and updates, which can mean significant cost savings in such areas as hardware refreshes and management time.

Bolton said the new service will offer that as one of several options. When customers are looking at creating a virtualized client environment, they usually either want virtualized access to their infrastructure or to create a shared-services situation with employee access to applications that are running on a single server. IBM will be able to help customers create and deploy any environment, she said.

"The key is … to offer access to this [virtualized] environment and reduce their total cost of ownership," Bolton said.

Customers can build a virtualized client environment using their existing hardware, and then, as they replace that hardware, move over to a thin-client model, Bolton said. Doing that rather than having to bring in the thin-client hardware immediately will help reduce the amount of money the customer needs to spend upfront, she said.

Vendors are looking hard at the ways virtualization, which started in the server space, can be used with clients, and server-based computing seems a natural fit. It has been around for decades, and while it continues to grow—the server-based computing model saw revenues in 2005 grow 38 percent year over year, Bolton said—it still represents a fraction of the overall PC market. However, vendors continue to pursue it. ClearCube Technology has introduced PC blades, an alternative to thin clients, while larger players such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard have joined the fray.

Bolton said the ability now to offer end users a full desktop environment on their thin-client devices will help speed up adoption, particularly as businesses struggle with the high costs of managing their PCs and the security risks involved with having data stored on laptops that can be carried out the door by employees.

Business cant continue to squeeze costs out of their current environment, Bolton said. "Youre going to have to look at … a shift of what you do to come to the point where you can really reduce costs," she said.

IBM has identified about 50,000 of its own employees who could be shifted to the virtualized desktop model, and the company currently has moved almost 4,000 of them over, Bolton said.

In addition to the virtualization service, IBM also announced two other services to businesses and their client environments: Software Platform Management Services offers electronic distribution and installation of workstation software and data from a central point, while Platform Integration and Deployment Services gives a range of offerings, from device procurement to overseeing testing to equipment installation.