PCs optimize

New virtual desktop offerings increase variety, but will they catch on?

Even though we have more processing power on our desks than NASA used to put men on the moon, there are companies out there who want us to give up that power in favor of "dumb terminals" that access virtual desktops running on very powerful computers back in a server room. Are you willing to take this step?

It seems like the computer business is trying to come full circle in recent years, with the recent virtual desktop offerings hearkening back to the mainframe days. Back then, all the processing was done on a massive computer that took up an entire room or floor and the users accessed the machine through terminals that barely had the power to display the data streams generated by the mainframes. These days, even though we have more processing power on our desks than NASA used to put men on the moon, there are companies out there who want us to give up that power in favor of "dumb terminals" that access virtual desktops running on very powerful computers back in a server room.

Virtual PCs Free Workers from Hardware (Information Week)

It isn't just Citrix, Microsoft, and VMWare in this game, smaller players are cropping up to take advantage of what analysts believe will be a multibillion dollar industry in coming years. One of the biggest factors in a successful desktop virtualization rollout is definitely the partners a firm chooses to assist with its project. One new wrinkle in the market is Symantec's offering that combines resources from several locations to virtualize a desktop completely over the Internet, eliminating reliance on a single server or farm, which could increase reliability and allow a user to connect to their desktop, data, and applications from anywhere in the world.

ClearCube Virtual Desktop Offerings Expand (eWeek)

Can the Channel Really Deliver on the Virtual Desktop Promise? (ITProPortal)

Symantec Unveils Virtual Desktop (eWeek)

Days like today reduce my enthusiasm for virtual desktop technology a bit. We had a campus-wide network issue that affected users' ability to access their network data and ability to log in. This turned out to be a relatively minor problem because our users have the processing power they need on their desktops to get most of their work done even if there is limited access to servers or the Internet. If we had relied on those servers to provide the desktops to the users, the problem would have been far more damaging and costly.

Are you ready to virtualize your desktops?

17 comments
Zenith545
Zenith545

Nice ideas - virtual servers, virtual desktops. BUT - if you lose a server - you loose much more than you did in the past. So - you still need redundant systems. Funny that Microsoft wants this to happen also - all of the operating system and apps running from a server. Are all "trade" pubs a shill for Microsoft? You want to pull hardware off the desk? How about blade PC clients? This seems one of the better solutions. Only a monitor, keyboard, mouse and interface box on the desk, hooked up to a PC card in the data room by a regular CAT5 cable. Working in IT, I just imagine what this means for PC moves; just walk into the data center and patch the blade client into another jack. No lugging of equipment around, so time and expense; hiring movers, OT, etc. are much less. What will virtual desktops due to the cost of OS and apps for the personal user?? At home, running everything on a virtual desktop is really not an option.

tan25jack
tan25jack

It sounds like a good idea however my concern is that even with more powerful computers it seems as though those virtual enviroments run slower. It seems that the further a user gets away from the server location the weaker their network connection gets and they tend to have more problems. I don't know it could just be our set up but I do know I don't like working in virtual environment because either everything is slow or dosen't work properly.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

and I would say that even with a quad 8-core processor, you would only be running maybe 20 clients (ram providing) with any degree of performance. And thats only for low intensity tasks, no photoshop...

mfrank
mfrank

I have 4 yrs experience with thin client computing. The 1st 3 were with a 40 user LAN and 10 WAN users. All on LAN were happy and WAN performance was acceptable most of the time (Office apps, e-mail, Internet). Now in much larger WAN environment and most users can't get acceptable performance due to network inadequacies. If network is properly constructed and needs of users aren't high end this can work very well and save $ and support time/cost. Of network is inadequate to provide reasonable performance it's a big mistake - lowers productivity and morale. BTW, I can run 20+ RDP sessions productively on a 4 yr. old 2 Xeon processor server with 2 GB RAM.

dweise
dweise

This article told me nothing!

pjboyles
pjboyles

They are great for what they do and competition is good for us. But this is not a desktop replacement for most. It still continues to be a nitch product. And no matter how much the virtualization sellers try to cover it, virtulized desktops / applications cost more. Need high security or extreme control over the desktop, virtualize. The costs are justified by the requirements. The rest of us need the ability to do some work when the WAN or server is down. Every dependency added impacts it's total reliability. Some of us only use local applications. Some of us have applications that pull data local so we can work through outages. So it all depends on the needs.

dprows
dprows

This is a good thing for financial institutions. Where most programs are now becoming browser based, the processing power of a PC are not needed at the desktop level. We use HP thin clients at most stations. We have redundant servers, communication lines, and locations. This setup has reduced our power consumption, management time, and has reduced network traffic. Since only a screenshot is being sent across the network (and many times only a partial screenshot), the size of the data going through the network is less.

timsalabim
timsalabim

Reliance on a technology that would assist the company having to remove a life cycle policy for workstations would be extremely beneficial. Not only to the IT staff, but to the users as well. The major issue at hand is what Andy experienced just recently (campus network issues). Without redundancy in network paths and servers, the affect is not just one segment of users. So are you just transferring the costs to the data center from the end users?

Unemployed IT Guy
Unemployed IT Guy

We have used and still use today Wyse60 terminals for our staff out "on the floor" in our warehouse. They work great, however we still use standalone workstations for our office staff. We ended up installing Anita to telnet to our production servers. This sort of mish mash has worked well at our company since we invested in desktops.

subs
subs

Embrace and watch your job outsourced overseas. Let's give away everything including our data and control to others

reisen55
reisen55

I am always amazed at how the PC world continues to regard those lost days of the 1970s as a nirvanna of computing. Somehow, the attempts to go Back to the Future never work. Remember those short lived PC systems that booted off of the network, had no hard drive and were totally ram driven? I forget the name but so few are around. Virtual may be a big thing, but I detest it. IF THE SERVER goes south, then the whole thing goes. One big benefit of server/workstation is diversification of capacity. Users can still work on their desktop system for a short while if the big stuff goes does, and that is a huge plus. Been there, done that when the big stuff went down and as a survivor of 2 World Trade Center, I can guarantee that workstations are great when you need them.

s_marczewski
s_marczewski

It is a good thing to have a backup if the servers go south. One way to combat this issue is to have 2 PCs that are fully functional and can still work with apps. that are usualy supplied by the server. Save the data on the local PC, then when the server comes back up you can update the data. Just have your data saved from another server and not your app. server. Most companies already have PCs with apps. and still connect to servers with apps.

reisen55
reisen55

But --- selling that concept to management that we are going to virtual desktop and, at the same time, keeping those servers and desktops around JUST IN CASE rather wrecks any business case. Management is not IT saavy to start with (well, at least in so far shipping jobs off to India) and will question one or the other. You won't get both. Now, in a small office (20 computers) you cannot justify virtualization but in a larger office (1700 systems) you cannot justify using both systems, it will be one or the other. Again, I think virtualization is nifty and technically interesting. But that was Robert Oppenheimer's reaction to the Ulam/Teller design for the final Hydrogen Bomb too.

Andy J. Moon
Andy J. Moon

I definitely like the idea of virtual desktops, they could ease a lot of management headaches by centralizing those headaches in the data center. Unfortunately, unless the network infrastructure is up to snuff, which is not necessarily the case in some places, there are plenty of other potential issues. Does desktop virtualization appeal to you?

Infotech003
Infotech003

How will this affect IT Administrators/Network Administrators/Desktop Support techs jobs? Sounds as if these jobs will be outsourced to the companies maintaining the virtual servers.

touch0ph
touch0ph

This can definitely be useful if implemented correctly. I would use a virtual desktop in areas that needed consistency or low computing requirements but not for the individual office user. Too many restrictions can be headaches for the users - and they are our customers.

TrajMag
TrajMag

In the beginning everything was centralized and a prospective user wasn't even allowed to see a computer let alone touch one. Drop off your batch of cards and if the folks behind the cage liked you maybe they would run your job. Because of these dictatorial powers the user folks at MIT started the whole hacker cult just so they could get something done. Granted they got a little out in left field with their blue boxes and hacking AT&T but that didn?t change the reason for their existence. Now nearly the whole IT world wants to revert back to the same deal. Actual users should never be allowed to actually have any control of their own work place. We can go ahead and take back control through virtualization and sit back and watch productivity go down the tubes. It isn?t about how easy is it for the IT department to do their job but what do the people generating the revenue want. We just work on the tools.