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:
- Brian Stanek, Vice President of IT for NAMICO
- Chris Brown, Vice President of Technology for Big Splash Web Design
- Charles Kneifel, CIO of American Kennel Club
- Chris Riccuiti, CIO of Needham and Co
- Olaf Lund, Director of IT for Lincoln Financial Media
- Kevin Leypoldt, IS Director for Structural Integrity Associates
- Ingo Dean, IT Director of EastWest Institute
- Adam Bertram, IT Director of McKendree Village
- Michael Stoyanovich, CIO of BeneSys
- Matthew Metcalfe, Director of IS for Northwest Exterminating
- Joshua Grossetti, Head of IT for Triumvirate Environmental
- 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 email@example.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 book, Follow the Geeks.