Virtualization Pro

May 13 2008   2:45PM GMT

Desktop virtualization is still a mixed bag

Adam Trujillo Profile: Atrujillo

During a session on desktop virtualization at the VMware virtualization forum in New York last week it became clear that many hurdles still hinder adoption of what Gartner called in 2004 the next disruptive PC technology.

How much does desktop virtualization really save?
Kicking off the session was NEC departmental servers director Ken Hertzler who went through the usual sponsor sales pitch mixed in with some moderately interesting statistics in hopes of making the case for desktop virtualization. When businesses hand out laptops to employees, they are actually making a bigger investment than the few hundred dollars for the machine. NEC puts management costs somewhere around $4500 over a three year period; and those costs are rising. Of course, Hertzler identified desktop virtualization as the key to reducing those costs.

Mark A. Margevicius is the research director at Stamford, Conn.-based research organization Gartner, and he agreed that businesses can save by deploying virtual desktops. He said that quantifying exactly how much savings, however, can be sticky. “On average, our customers save two to 12% from a TCO perspective,” he said. Measuring total cost of ownership makes it difficult to pin down savings. For example, how do you measure how much you save in PC uptime? Or, to put it another way, how often do non-virtual PCs go down?

But it isn’t just about the cost of maintaining remote workers. The security risks are often enormous. Hertzler cited a local banking firm that estimates the cost of a lost or stolen laptop in the neighborhood of $50,000 when it’s all said and done. Although Margevicius wasn’t surprised by this number, he said that every organization measures these expenses differently. “You could argue that losing the laptop you gave to the janitor to play solitare with would result in high cost,” he said.

For Margevicius, it’s all about the capital costs versus TCO to which people need to pay attention. Most customers get hung up on capital costs, i.e. the investment it takes to get things going. What many people are realizing, however, is that desktop virtualization is a shared resource and that many of the savings come in the form of things like higher levels of redundancy.

Hardware requirements coming to the forefront

After throwing out some scary numbers, Hertzler ended with a demonstration of NEC’s desktop virtualization server designed specifically for use in VMware virtual desktop environments. The crowning feature of the server is its fault tolerance and automatic failover capability. In fact, Hertzler had been running his entire presentation on a virtual machine hosted on one of these very servers.

He asked a volunteer to unplug the power, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, the server automatically failed over to the backup with no interruption to the single VM running an instance of Power Point and what looked like Windows Explorer. Sweetening the deal was the nearly unnoticeable 30 seconds before he could open his applications back up–very impressive.

But it wasn’t the server technology, per se, that Margevicius was concerned about—it’s storage. “Most people at minimum take for granted the amount of storage a PC has. People expect 80, 10, 250 gigs of local storage as part of the platform,” he said, it goes back to the question of capital costs. “How much storage do you allocate in your data center [for local storage on virtual PCs]?” This, again, is a question of how much capital cost you want to invest in your virtual infrastructure.

Are we ready for desktop virtualization?
Gartner still sees maturity as a major hurdle. Although Mark acknowledges the progress made by VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, components such as software and brokering technology still need to be addressed and improved.

The question of maturity is raised in terms of scalability. Most deployments are still in the area of 100 or so virtual desktops and many of those are still in pilot or testing. Although he couldn’t release names, Mark said that he knows of a handful of people who’ve “gotten religion” over virtual infrastructure and who have plans to move into the 500-1000 virtual desktop range with the end goal of an entire virtual desktop architecture.

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  • Slowe
    Storage is definitely a concern that many people overlook when it comes to desktop virtualization. Consider a (relatively) small deployment of 500 desktops with a (relatively) small footprint per VM of 20GB. That still adds up to 1TB of storage for desktop images. Vendors touting their data deduplication functionality are hoping that they can gain an edge at the "storage vendors of choice" for desktop virtualization initiatives. In some informal tests with a customer of mine, we saw a reduction from just over 250GB to less than 50GB using data deduplication from a multiprotocol storage vendor. Pretty impressive!
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