Red Hat heads into desktop virtualization territory

Red Hat is now in the desktop virtualization market with its RHEV platform. Andy Moon notes that the established players in that space might make it tough for the Linux giant.

Red Hat has officially entered the desktop virtualization market. Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) for Servers will allow customers to deploy Linux, Windows XP, or Windows 7 clients virtually. This takes the processing that is normally done by the client PC on the user's desk and moves it to the data center, where high-powered servers can process much more quickly.

Desktop virtualization market

Desktop virtualization is still in its infancy as far as the market goes, but it is reminiscent of the mainframe days when the processing was done on a huge machine in a data center, while the users had "dumb terminals," or screens that displayed the data that was served up by the mainframe. These days, most people are more comfortable with the computers on their desk doing the majority of the work, while enterprise applications are run off of servers in the data center.


Some of desktop virtualization's benefits include the following:

  • Client machines can be extremely scaled down thin clients with only the processing power necessary to display the screenshots that are sent down from the server.
  • Users generally see performance benefits, as the machines running their desktop OS are servers. If the planning process is done properly, those servers can blow away the performance of all but the highest end user workstations.
  • Virtual desktop environments are far easier to keep patched and upgraded. The environments also make software deployments a breeze since the updates only have to be applied to the server.
  • Remote users and travelers have the ability to access their desktop from any machine capable of running a remote desktop application, from a laptop, a client's office, or an Internet kiosk in a library or an airport.
Major drawback

Desktop virtualization hasn't received much traction because, if all a user has is their virtual desktop, a network or server outage can stop an entire enterprise in its tracks. However, it is getting to the point that desktop virtualization's benefits seem to be outweighing the infrastructure concerns.

Red Hat vs. the competition

There are established players in the desktop virtualization space, and they might make it tough for the Linux giant to make progress.

For instance, Microsoft is in the virtual desktop market, having teamed with Citrix to form a roadshow, which they are hoping will convince customers to choose their offerings over market leader VMware, which also has a desktop virtualization initiative.

Red Hat's offering has one compelling feature that its competitors' products lack: the ability to import virtual machines from VMWare, Citrix, and Microsoft's virtual platforms. Red Hat senior product marketing manager Andrew Cathrow claims that moving virtual machines from the other platforms to RHEV is a "very simple" process.

Red Hat has also increased the resources available to each virtual desktop in order to make large processor and memory intensive applications perform better for the users. In addition, the management suite includes a data warehouse that can be exported to most SQL-based databases. The icing on the cake is the pricing, which includes a free hypervisor for customers already running RHEL, as well as management tools that Red Hat claims are "dramatically lower-cost than our competitors."

My thoughts on desktop virtualization

I have long been a proponent of desktop virtualization. I remember pining for a technology that would allow me to patch or upgrade the operating system for my users without having to visit every machine. I vividly remember upgrading our campus to Microsoft Office 2003 with Group Policy and having to physically visit every single PC to install Windows XP and being supremely disappointed with the hoops I had to jump through to get things done. Desktop virtualization can ease many of those problems, but you must have solid infrastructure components in place because a network failure could result in your users being unable to get to their desktop.

Is your company experimenting with desktop virtualization? If not, does it plan to in the near future? Share your thoughts on desktop virtualization in the discussion.

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