CIO Jury: Desktop virtualization doesn't offer enough value

One of IT's hottest buzz topics of 2009 is desktop virtualization. But, TechRepublic's CIO Jury has indicated that the vast majority of IT leaders have no plans to adopt desktop virtualization, although a minority group of CIOs are enthusiastic about it.

One of IT's hottest buzz topics of 2009 is desktop virtualization. The concept is basically a new spin on thin client infrastructure, which was rejected by most IT departments over the past two decades, with the exception of a few niche cases.

The renewed interested and hype around thin clients in the form of desktop virtualization is being driven by two factors -- the success of server virtualization in lowering costs in the data center, and the unrelenting pressure that IT departments are feeling to squeeze out more cost savings during the current recession.

But, most CIOs aren't buying the hype or jumping on board with desktop virtualization. TechRepublic's CIO Jury has indicated that the vast majority of IT leaders have no plans to adopt desktop virtualization, although there is a minority group of IT chiefs that are enthusiastic about it.

On August 17, TechRepublic polled its 90-member panel of U.S. IT leaders and asked, "Is your IT department strongly considering a deployment of virtual desktops?" The jury, made up of the first 12 respondents, answered with nine "no" votes and three "yes" votes.

TechRepublic's CIO Jury is based on the original CIO Jury concept developed by Silicon.com, where you can find lively opinions from IT leaders based in the UK.

Our CIO Jury for this issue was:

  1. Brian Stanek, Vice President of IT for NAMICO
  2. Chris Brown, Vice President of Technology for Big Splash Web Design
  3. Charles Kneifel, CIO of American Kennel Club
  4. Chris Riccuiti, CIO of Needham and Co
  5. Olaf Lund, Director of IT for Lincoln Financial Media
  6. Kevin Leypoldt, IS Director for Structural Integrity Associates
  7. Ingo Dean, IT Director of EastWest Institute
  8. Adam Bertram, IT Director of McKendree Village
  9. Michael Stoyanovich, CIO of BeneSys
  10. Matthew Metcalfe, Director of IS for Northwest Exterminating
  11. Joshua Grossetti, Head of IT for Triumvirate Environmental
  12. Jeff Cannon, CIO of Fire and Life Safety America

Despite the fact that most of the IT chiefs are not interested in desktop virtualization for broad enterprise deployments, there are a handful who are very enthusiastic about it. For example, Chuck Elliot, Director of IT for the Emory University School of Medicine, wrote:

"My colleagues in Emory Healthcare have deployed an award-winning virtual desktop environment to 10,000+ users. Budget challenges notwithstanding, we are investigating the feasibility and potential savings in the academic environment. Customer satisfaction will always be a critical success factor and a virtual desktop infrastructure has great potential for delivering customer support and a more secure environment."

On the other hand, Michael Woodford, Executive Director of IT for USANA Health Sciences, reported that his company attempted a virtual desktop deployment but eventually abandoned it:

"We have deployed a couple of 'sets' of virtual desktops in customer facing areas in our organization and have found that there is limited benefit and quite a bit of 'babysitting' that has to go on. In one of our training facilities we pulled all virtual desktops due to continual problems with performance and requirements for maintenance. Virtual may be a buzzword in today's industry, but for us it is a four-letter word."

Here are more quotes from TechRepublic's panel of IT leaders -- beyond just the 12 on the jury -- who responded to the virtual desktop question:


  • "While server virtualization has been a huge step forward for us in the data center, I see no real benefit from desktop virtualization. Virtual desktops are the 3270 terminals of the 21st century." (Chuck Musciano, CIO of Martin Marietta Materials)
  • "No way. We've embraced virtualization at the server level, but as most of our end-users are mobile with laptops, there are too many caveats to make it worthwhile for us." (Joshua Grossetti, Head of IT for Triumvirate Environmental )
  • "We use too many high-end applications that are very resource intensive. Virtual Desktops would not be a good choice for us based on the type of work we do." (Chris Zalegowski, Director of IT for DEKA Research & Development)
  • "We use virtual desktops to support testers, but not for general users." (Charles Kneifel, CIO of the American Kennel Club)
  • "No, the single point of failure is still too much of a concern." (Chris Brown, Vice President of Technology for Big Splash Web Design)
  • "No. We really see virtualized applications as a stronger value proposition in our environment." (Michell Gibbs, Vice President of Services at Advocate Charitable Foundation)
  • "No. Costs are still too sketchy." (Jerry Justice, IT Director of SS&G Financial Services)
  • "We have just started to explore virtualization and we are first looking at our servers. Our desktops and laptops are controlled and imaged using Ghost, which has significantly reduced our workload." (Bob Hickcox, Director of IT for Girl Scouts of MN and WI)
  • "[We're] waiting one more cycle to let the technology mature. May experiment with training rooms and certain workgroups as pilots before then." (Michael Spears, CIO of the National Council on Compensation Insurance)
  • "No, not within the next 12 months. We will be looking at the technology over the next year as a possible solution for disaster recovery." (David Van Geest, Director of IT for The Orsini Group)
  • "Very enticing, but the upgrade would also necessitate an upgrade to the infrastructure to accommodate that (bandwidth), which takes away from the ROI for now. Technology is improving and some day it will be worth the upgrade, but not today for us." (Jeff Focke, Director of IT for Electrical Distributors, Inc.)


  • "We are not naive about the difficulties involved but we do believe that the potential savings could exceed those of server virtualization." (Peter Whatnell, CIO of Sunoco)
  • "Yes. Both from a perspective of data security and IT configuration changes it makes sense. We've locked down the desktops to protect the equipment but remote users need access to resources and can't always make it in for IT to reset the systems. Plus, bad software patches will be easier to roll back." (Lisa Moorehead, Director of IT for MA Dept of Public Utilities)
  • "We are actively testing this scenario. The ability to 'recycle' older PCs into RDC 'thin' clients to extend their lifespan is a must in this economy. It allows us to upgrade more users more quickly while leveraging the deployment capabilities built into the VM environment. It's a win for IT and a win for the business." (Scott Klauminzer, Director of IT for Hacker Group, Inc.)
  • "We already have a virtual environment via Citrix, but the flexibility of a VDI solution is very attractive. The one main issue we are faced with that could derail our forward momentum is licensing costs. With Citrix (I am assuming something similar for VMware) you have to pay user licenses for their platinum product in order to get management and monitoring tools (as well as some key functionality) in addition, there is the myriad of Microsoft licensing costs." (Jay Rollins, Vice President of IT for Trilogy Health Services)
  • "Having already deployed several servers in VM. We had realized early that using VM for certain desktop users, especially remote workers, was an excellent use of the technology. We have been looking to expand it to the manufacturing floor and office users. Engineering will continue to use their high end workstations due to the resource heavy applications that are specific to their function." (Martin Szalay, Director of IT for FWE Co.)
  • "Yes. We've started piloting VMware View with Wyse's TCX extensions." (Scott Lowe, CIO of Westminster College)
  • "Yes, the labor and capital savings are too great to ignore." (Tim Stiles, CIO of Bremerton Housing Authority)

Would you like to be part of TechRepublic's CIO Jury and have your say in the hottest issues for IT departments? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and you want to be part of TechRepublic's CIO Jury pool, drop us a line at ciojury@techrepublic.com.


Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.


The probablem with most of these instances is there is no needs analysis or fit test done. Many simply implement the core and try to virtualize everything. Will VDI work for all users? No. But it will work for more than you might think. We are about 80% desktop virtualized. It pays dividends constantly and the babysitting is minimal. One of the benefits for us is that we are a highly dynamic environment. Our desktop needs fluctuate quite a bit. With our VDI solution we can have a manager come and say they need 25 new desktops for this new group and we can provision them the same day. No waiting on purchasing, vendors, etc. We take 25 thin clients out of our store room (~$200 each), plug them in and turn them on. Meanwhile, we open the management console and allocate 25 more slots for VDI VMs and we are live. Roll out time, about 30 minutes. But you have to know your needs and test your solution. Also, we run about 50-60 desktops per one $6K server.


for us at least. As it is right now, we are doing this ghetto-style by using roaming profiles with imaging software. As it is here, if you sit at computer a, b, or c, you have everything you need(for the most part). It helps a lot when you have people moved around almost daily. Desktop virtualization will just take this to the next level for us, making it much easier to wipe a profile and get them back up faster. In the long run, the ROI should surpass fat clients substantially.


App Virtualization sounds like it might have potential, and client virtualization as it relates to having an XP VM for backward compatibility might make sense, but presently we're not looking into an desktop virtualization per se...just the cost of the servers to support such an infrastructure is intimidating.


"?We are not naive about the difficulties involved but we do believe that the potential savings could exceed those of server virtualization.? (Peter Whatnell, CIO of Sunoco)" What is this guy smoking? How can 1:1 desktop virtualization offer more savings than 16:1 server virtualization? The supposed benefit of desktop virtualization is that it would give you hardware abstraction and a stable image. But these days, smart hardware vendors like Intel already offer stable image support across multiple chipsets.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

I would never consider it for our high end workstations. For the price of a server to run these resource intensive apps for a small workgroup, we could just buy the desktops for less. Now I do consider virtualization for our run of the mill user who uses basically an office suite, the internet and an in-house app or two. Going that route will depend on how testing goes, putting together an ROI and deciding how many total desktops can be virtualized. I like the idea of it, but we'll just have to see. The big bonus I see is the fact that the server, and therfore my desktops would be backed up. I've never considered desktop backups in the past as it is more time consuming than the occasional reimage, not to mention expensive. No user specific data is stored on the pc itself so basic windows installs are usually all that is needed, along with specialized apps and office suites.


Please elaborate! What products are you using? What kind of business environment?


Wow David, small world! My ex-wife grew up in Banks and I grew up in Forest Grove... I find visualizing legacy apps that run under legacy operating systems to be the biggest advantage.. especially systems we don't need to access often, but still have to keep around.


In our view, Desktop Virtualization is much broader than VDI. It includes App virtualization for the desktop, User profile virtualization, server side desktop virtualization, client side desktop virtualization and presentation virtualization. So... yes, we are definitely looking at Desktop Virtualization. Separating the apps from the desktop OS is something we expect will benefit our desktop management for both traditional laptops/desktops and for the new virtual desktops we deploy. We are looking at deploying VDI for our help desk and call center operations overseas.


I carried out an assessment on the ROI/TCO for a VDI solution some months ago. Any scenario i worked out, i did not get a positive ROI. here's a gist of how i arrived at the ROI. ROI = current cost - VDI cost Current Cost 1. Cost of the Desktop / laptop hardware 2. Cost of spares 3. support costs VDI Cost 1. Cost of thin client 2. Cost of server (6 - 8 VMs per CPU core) 3. Storage cost 4. Rack cost 5. Network Switch cost 6. Deployment cost 7. Virtualization software license cost Benefits: 1. Difference in hardware cost (Desktop cost MINUS (server hardware+rack+switch+storage+license+deployment+thin client)) 2. Management cost (managing VDIs will be cheaper) 3. Energy savings (Desktop energy consumption MINUS energy consumption of(Server+Thin client+switch+storage) ROI is always negative as the hardware acquisition costs goes up significantly. With the ever falling prices of Desktops & laptops, i don't think Desktop virtualization will gain momentum any soon.


The business sector is a broad umbrella of IT services from hosting to call centers to managed solutions. Our primary VDI deployments are call center driven. In these instances, mobility, security, and rapid scale times are competitive advantages. VDI delivers this. Solution components? VMware vSphere and Citrix XenApp + XenDesktop. The combination has been solid and delivered impressive performance.


I can see how that would work really well in your business. I am at a school district and I can see it working for us as well but so far the "that's the way we have always done it" has prevailed over better security, better cost, better manageability.

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