While server virtualisation is now a standard part of any CIO's tech armoury, desktop virtualisation has been much slower to gain a foothold in the enterprise.
Some of the reluctance from CIOs is because the technology is newer and costs can be higher in the short term because of the additional hardware, storage and networking required, even if the long term running costs are lower.
Another reason that desktop virtualisation is slower to take off is that it has an impact on how end users work – whereas servers don't tend to complain too much when they get virtualised, CIOs tread carefully when changes can affect end users.
But it could be that CIOs are starting to warm to desktop virtualisation as the technology matures. When asked "Are you planning to rollout desktop virtualisation in your organisation?" TechRepublic's exclusive CIO voted no - but by a margin of only seven to five. In contrast, when they were asked a similar question back in 2009 the response was no by a margin of nine to three, suggesting that desktop virtualisation is inching towards the mainstream.
Mike Roberts, IT director at The London Clinic, said: "This is a vital component of secure remote access and assists in the management of network performance. Of course there is a cost in core infrastructure, but it's worth it."
Michael Spears, CIO at NCCI Holdings said: "The technology in this area is beginning to mature. It is quite likely we will go this route versus a complete PC refresh."
However, other members of the CIO Jury were less convinced. Kevin Quealy, director of information services and facilities at Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia said: "I've looked into it but as an SMB we don't get much of the cost benefit of virtualised desktops. Most of my users are working out of home offices or need laptops in the office."
Similarly, Rob Paciorek, CIO at Access Intelligence said: "At this time, it seems like there is a high initial investment that doesn't produce the ROI for a smaller company like ours."
Pete Smith, IT & telecoms director at The Royal Household, said: "There is definitely a role for desktop virtualisation in many businesses – but organisations still have to crack this problem on standard desktops before they can think about supporting it on a wider range of BYOD equipment."
And Mike Woodford, executive director of IT technical services at USANA Health Sciences sounded a note of caution: "We tried desktop virtualisation twice in the past two years and could not get the same levels of performance and reliability for our critical applications. Also it required nearly double the maintenance and support staff than with individual desktop machines."
Shawn Beighle, CIO at the International Republican Institute said he was looking at the technology on a limited basis: "In my case, so many of my users are in countries which have poor infrastructure, it makes it difficult to completely make the jump."
Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at marketing services company Creston, said he was already using desktop virtualisation in a "fairly limited" way, using Microsoft's Terminal Server and RDP.
He added: "The 'full fat' version is where the real payback will be realised; replacing the usual cycle of hardware replacement, or provisioning extra all-weather hardware for freelancers, with low cost or re-purposed PC's accessing all possible applications dependant on need." He said that virtual desktops can play an important role for disaster recovery too, but that BYOD is a more complex issue "requiring very clear, and rigidly enforced, operating rules".
Adam Gerrard CTO at Laterooms said: "The need to secure our data in a BYOD environment has provided a strong motivator to drive our thinking about desktop or workspace virtualisation. Virtualisation also adds a significant upside to business continuity planning as it provides a simplified approach to making a warm site a live site for that all-essential first wave of end users in a crisis."
This week's CIO Jury was
- Shawn Beighle, CIO, International Republican Institute
- Neil Jones head of information services, Newport City Homes
- Jerry Justice, IT director, SS&G Financial Services
- Adam Gerrard, CTO, Laterooms
- Rob Paciorek, CIO, Access Intelligence
- Kevin Quealy, director of information services and facilities, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia
- Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
- Pete Smith IT & telecoms director, The Royal Household
- Michael Spears, CIO, NCCI Holdings
- Ian Takats, head of IT, Visit Britain
- Gavin Whatrup, group IT director, Creston
- Mike Woodford, executive director of IT technical services, USANA Health Sciences
Other members of the CIO Jury group discussed their experiences of desktop virtualisation:
Delano Gordon, CIO at Roofing Supply Group, said "the benefits of decreasing or simplified support costs are very compelling".
Kevin Leypoldt, IS director at Structural Integrity Associates, explained: "As a multi-discipline engineering firm, we have many applications (both commercial and internally developed) that have specialized hardware and operating system requirements. Therefore 'true' desktop virtualisation is not on our radar. However we are using (terminal server) virtualisation to leverage BYOD."
John Gracyalny, VP of IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, said: "We have already semi-virtualised the desktop, in that all PCs now write all files to a master server rather than the local hard drive, up to and including the desktop display. This has greatly facilitated management of remote PCs."
Edward Beck, VP of IT at Line 6, said: "We already do this for any oddball requirements and allow RDP access to various users. This halfway step allows us to minimize end user installs and technical issues surrounding certain installs of complex or painful to deal with software. Next steps are to go VDI for key users in stable areas (finance and admin)."
Chris Martin, CTO at Cheapflights, said his team members use server hosted virtual desktops containing the business apps they need, with "lots of memory and CPU available".
He added "we also support BYOD tablet users who can access a virtual desktop for business apps (with wireless keyboard and monitor plug-in) whilst retaining their fave apps, music, videos, games and stuff on their own devices."
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Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.