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December 27, 2009

Virtualization Can Lower Costs and Raise Productivity

The PC desktop has inherent drawbacks in the areas of manageability, security, and resources that the virtual desktop impressively addresses.

Desktop virtualization is quickly gaining traction. It's no wonder given the high cost of maintaining PCs and the popularity of client-server technology. Costs can vary, but one study by a leading industry research group states that the total cost of ownership for a desktop PC is about $5,400 per PC, per year. This figure actually increases as the PC depreciates. Because of the rise in the cost of managing and securing PCs, many companies have searched for alternatives. This often leads them to desktop virtualization and lower-cost hardware options like thin clients.

Desktop virtualization is defined as a computing environment in which some or all components of the system, including operating system and applications, reside in a protected environment, isolated from the underlying hardware and software platforms. The virtualization layer controls interactions between the virtual environment and the rest of the system. Essentially, servers host desktop environments specific to each user and stream applications and operating systems to the desktop.

There are many companies that have implemented this technology paired with the use of thin clients to increase security, improve manageability, and free valuable resources.

Trends in Desktop Virtualization

One of the driving forces behind desktop virtualization is the introduction of Vista. Many IT executives are concerned that Vista will require them to upgrade their current devices. With virtualization, companies can run this new OS on servers supporting thin client desktops. Microsoft has created Windows Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktops, which is Windows Vista licensing for deployment in a centralized, virtualized setting.

There’s also the surge in at-home workers, a trend that has increased the need for virtualization on the desktop. With employees working from home, IT has lost some control over security. It’s obvious that IT needs to be concerned with security of their entire infrastructure with the increase in data security breaches and the resulting new laws and regulations. Desktop virtualization allows end users to have the ability to access their desktops from anywhere at anytime, and IT has the luxury of knowing that their environment is secure.

The Skinny on Thin Clients

Consultants have been saying for a long time that thin clients are the future. Today, thin client technology finally has caught up with the vision. A few years ago, most companies had two or three models of thin clients, but today there are many models to choose from with varying CPU speeds, memory capacities, storage capacities, and operating systems. Besides being more secure and easier to deploy, manage, and maintain (than their PC counterparts) thin clients boast a longer life expectancy because they have no moving parts, small footprint on the desktop, lower power consumption, and server-centralized data storage. See "Choosing the Right Thin Client for your System i". for more on thin clients.

Benefits of Desktop Virtualization

In a survey of 100 IT managers conducted by Goldman Sachs (Desktop Virtualization), the number-one motivation for adopting desktop virtualization is increased manageability (36 percent of respondents). Some 32 percent of respondents said they are motivated by the benefits in the area of security. Other benefits include increased flexibility, hardware independence, reductions in downtime and costs, and more.

Centralized Management

By managing desktops centrally, IT benefits from no longer having to physically maintain every unit and therefore frees up valuable resources, including time. Security can be centrally controlled helping to eliminate possible security lapses.

Desktops can be created within minutes by simply copying and moving files. This is especially helpful after a system failure. Desktops are easily deployed, and users can go back to work quickly because they are not tied to any particular hardware.

Centralized management allows maintenance to be transparent to the user. Maintenance can be performed during regular work hours without affecting users' productivity during the work day. Companies gain better control over each individual desktop and allow for upgrades, patches, installation, and more to be completed without user intervention.


The trend toward working at home has increased exponentially over the years due to changes in technology. More and more companies are saving money by allowing employees to work from their homes or by outsourcing work offshore. Control over the security of off-site facilities is often overlooked leading to huge organizational issues. With desktop virtualization, everything is being protected and managed from one location, which allows IT to regain control over security. Since virtual machines are isolated from one another, issues on one machine, like a virus for example, affect only that machine. IT Managers can now be sure that all desktops are protected from viruses. They can perform virus updates on all machines without having to go to each individual one, and they don't have to rely on users to implement updates.

Desktop virtualization allows for a more flexible choice of hardware providing the option of less expensive, but more secure, thin clients. Besides the security benefit of having all data reside on the server, thin clients offer a more resilient environment against viruses. Shutting down a thin client brings it back to its original state thereby eliminating any potential threat.

Complete Desktop Experience

Thin clients are easy to manage and deploy, more reliable than their PC counterparts, and more secure, but it’s no secret that end users are reluctant to embrace a thin client implementation. The main reason for this is because users don’t want to lose their perceived personal privacy. Users may feel as though they have lost control of their work environments. Desktop virtualization eliminates this concern by providing users with a complete desktop experience. When logging into a virtual environment, each user sees her personal desktop just as she would with a PC. Her preferred wallpaper, photos, color scheme, and more display each time. Even better, she can obtain this same desktop from anywhere, regardless of hardware.

Increased Flexibility

Users can benefit from a portable desktop. It allows them to connect from anywhere using a wide range of devices. There’s also the benefit of being able to access multiple desktop environments from a single client. This allows programmers and developers with the ability to easily test code on multiple operating systems or applications reducing development time and resources.

Hardware Independence

Desktop virtualization allows the use of any hardware and for streaming applications and OS's from the server. This can result in companies saving money by installing thin clients instead of fully configured PCs.

Resource Pooling

Resource pooling allows multiple user desktops to run as separate virtual machines while sharing underlying physical hardware resources such as CPU, memory, networking and storage. Some virtualization products reduce the demand for memory and bandwidth by providing streaming for just the amount of software that is needed.


Virtualization is a good fit for companies that want to move to thin clients but use applications that will not run in a multi-user environment like Terminal Server. All applications that normally run in a PC environment can run in a virtualized environment without any changes.

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