Desktop Virtualisation – Worth The Cost?

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Centralising desktops and getting rid of PCs is a green move which could save money, but users should watch the implementation costs

Desktop virtualisation has been proposed as a way to reduce IT costs, but it takes investment and planning – and IT managers should make sure they have a good enough infrastructure before they embark on the process, according to a webinar chaired by eWEEK.

In particular, desktop virtualisation can result in a big demand for storage, so organisations should only go in that direction if they have a well managed storage network, which can reduce any duplication and manage the costs of storage, presenters agreed in the webinar, Best Practices for Planning and Managing VDI.

When thin clients meet the cloud

Desktop virtualisation is in many ways a continuation of older models of computing using “thin clients” instead of PCs, which were popularised in the late 1990s, and themselves derived from older terminal access models.

The big benefit is reducing the total cost of ownership of desktops. This is partly based on using less hardware on the desktop, but is mostly to do with vastly reduced management cost, since the applications normally run on the desktop – and the operating system – are moved onto a central resource.

Some people argue that today’s virtual desktop propositions are just retreads of older thin client models, but two differences emerged in the webcast, both of which derive from the fact that virtual desktops are a combination of thin clients and a “cloud” approach .

Firstly, where thin clients pushed users onto a specific kind of hardware, virtual desktop models now include the option to run applications on different machines including mobile devices. “The client device can be any device including a mobile phone, or a  thin client,” said Jim Craig (left), sustainable IT lead at Oracle. “A thin client is just one way to access a virtual desktop infrastructure.”

Secondly, today’s virtual desktop solutions are being proposed at a time when users are becoming conditioned to use remote applications. They expect and prefer email to be in “cloud” servers like Google or Hotmail, and are able to see their virtual desktop as a logical continuation of that trend.

Deal with the real

Although this sounds fine in principle, any CIO moving towards virtual desktops has to deal with the actual reality of what is installed, and what users want to do, said the webinar presenters.

Chris Puttick (left) has a lot of mobile workers, as CIO of Oxford Archaeology, a practice which works with planners and builders to preserve and understand remains: “Some of our people work a little like sales guys, they may be on site, at small buildings or at a major construction site,” he said. The organisation also works abroad, with one staff member recently on site at a palace complex in China.

For him, a major benefit of desktop virtualisation is allowing users to get to their applications through mobile devices. He recently deployed 150 Motorola Milestones (the European name for the Motorola Droid). “They are not being used as phones,”  he said (the organisation has no voice bundle). Instead, they are used to access email and applications remotely. “Phoning is the last bit that people are interested in.”

Craig said: “It’s about breaking the link between the PC and the applications. “The PC becomes a display device – like a television – with different channels,” said Jim Craig, Oracle’s sustainable IT lead. “A Linux channel and channels for different flavours of Windows.”

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