Virtualisation: Is it time you stopped hugging your desktops?

Users of virtual desktops point to big benefits, but flag up the obstacles that continue to slow the technology's adoption.

There are few organisations that haven't virtualised servers over the past few years but desktop virtualisation has been developing at a fraction of the pace.

That's because the technology is newer, and the upfront outlay can be higher than those associated with traditional desktops because of the additional costs for hardware, storage and networking. However, the longer terms costs of running a virtualised desktop can be lower.

But as the price of the client hardware comes down and IT departments look to accommodate mobile devices and BYOD into their infrastructure, virtual desktops could become more attractive to the mainstream.

Speaking at Citrix's Synergy conference in San Francisco, some of its customers explained why they chosen virtual desktops.

Wes Wright, CTO at Seattle Children's Hospital, explained: "The reason we did our virtual desktop initiative was speed and speed alone." He said it had previously taken two minutes, on a good day, to log onto a PC - and on a bad day 10 minutes. Cutting that down to seconds "gives the [doctors] more time to see the kids," he said. The hospital expects to save around $1m over five years from the move to virtual desktops.

Douglas Soltesz, CIO at Budd Van Lines, said its desktop virtualisation programme had helped out when its headquarters was closed by snow, because staff were not tied to the desktop in the office.

"Every employee can work from home or from BYOD, so when headquarters were closed we were able to keep the trucks moving," he said.

When asked why desktop virtualisation had not become mainstream, Wright of Seattle Children's Hospital said: "You've got to put a lot of trust in the back-end infrastructure and a lot of folk won't make that leap. If you had a network outage back in the day, you knew you had local apps on the PC and a lot of people quite like that."

He added: "A lot of people are still PC hugging and think that it provides a degree of safety. [But] when everything is moving to collaboration, a PC that is not connected to the network is almost useless - so you might as well make that leap."

And Chris Moses, CTO at financial services company EK Riley, pointed to another major factor that is holding back desktop virtualisation - licensing. He said Microsoft's licensing for virtual desktops needed to be improved.


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.


Thanks for posting. This article is definitely topical and I appreciate your insight. I work at Symantec and we have noticed the focus has shifted largely away from devices and toward users/roles and the data/apps that they need to get their jobs done. Using a mobile device to access a virtual desktop is a perfectly legitimate way to access a resource, but typically not the ideal pairing because those backend desktop applications tend not to be well suited to the form factor or interface of mobile devices. And as you mention in your post, there is an inherent increase in the cost when going to VDI due to it being an additional computing stack. The equation would be different if a company were to switch completely to VDI, but I have not heard of a single company that has been able to justify getting anywhere near that. So in the interest of 100% coverage from all devices, there will certainly be cases where virtual desktops will be accessed from mobile devices, but it will remain a niche option for when there is no other way. Would love to hear your thoughts. Brian Duckering, Symantec Corp.

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