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Desktop virtualization benefits come at too high a price, users say

Citrix, VMware and others have pushed desktop virtualization, but users remain hesitant to deploy the technology given the upgrade requirements and cost.

Several vendors sell desktop virtualization products, but for some users the cost of the software, hardware and infrastructure upgrades required to run hundreds of virtual desktops outweighs the management and security benefits.

For more on desktop virtualization:
How to evaluate desktop virtualization approaches and solutions

Desktop and application virtualization; convincing management and end users

Desktop virtualization options

With hosted desktop virtualization, traditional PCs are replaced with virtual machines that can be managed from a secure data center, so any data and applications that sit on traditional PCs are safe from loss or theft. Virtual desktops can also be accessed remotely, and IT can do maintenance, support and patching through high-speed data center links.

But even with these benefits, "hosted desktop virtualization is still a very expensive undertaking and one that should be built around the data security and manageability benefits, and less around cost reduction," wrote Forrester Research Inc. senior analyst Natalie Lambert in "Demystifying client virtualization."

On its face, desktop virtualization is a lot like server-based computing (SBC) through Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenApp, which gives users secure access to Windows applications from anywhere using any device or connection. But desktop virtualization connects to a single-user OS, where traditional SBC connects back to a multi-user OS (i.e., Windows Terminal Server), explained independent technology analyst Brian Madden in a blog about desktop virtualization and SBC.

Vendors push desktop virtualization
Companies such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Citrix., Pano Logic Inc. and VMware Inc . offer a flavor of desktop virtualization with management and security benefits for IT administrators.

On April 14, Citrix introduced the new desktop virtualization offering XenDesktop, to replace its Citrix Desktop Server product.

With the new XenDesktop software, when an end user logs in, the action creates a personalized desktop that includes users' applications, OSes, and their most recent configuration settings. The virtual image is delivered to the desktop via Citrix' proprietary network protocol for application servers, beta version is available for download. Pricing will begin at $75 per concurrent user.

Pano Logic also announced a new version of its desktop virtualization software on April 14, Pano Virtual Desktop Solution (VDS) 2.0 . The updated software requires less bandwidth than previously (75 KB to 150 KB per desktop), so a standard T1 line can support as many as 20 Pano devices.

It also supports VMware Virtual Desktop Manager (VDM) and has support for composite USB devices. Pano VDS 2.0 will be available on May 5, 2008 with pricing starting at $300 for a single Pano Client.

Cupertino, Calif.-based security software vendor Symantec Corp. will also add virtual desktops to its portfolio with the purchase of Palo Alto, Calif.-based AppStream.

Since 2006 the developer of application streaming technology has been a partner with Symantec and its software is integrated into Symantec's Software Virtualization Solution (SVS) Pro. The deal is expected to close in June.

Then, of course, VMware offers a desktop virtualization product, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, as does Hewlett-Packard Co. with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and Sun updated its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure software in March after entering the market in 2007.

Administrators sound off on desktop virtualization
And even though vendors have hopped all over desktop virtualization, IT pros have little affection for it. When users on Ars OpenForum were asked about the pros and cons of the technology, most respondents said that the initial cost outweighed the benefits .

According to veteran Ars blogger Bright Wire, virtual desktops have been appealing to the management team, but his IT team does its best to keep it out of the data center because of cost and the magnitude of system upgrades required.

"The cost of deploying virtual desktops is massive," Bright Wire wrote. "You will need to re-gear your existing desktops to run the virtual or you will need vendor equipment that costs twice as much as a new desktop. Either way, the cost is big in manpower. On top of that, your infrastructure will need serious review."

According to VMware's product specifications, local desktop virtualization requires a 500 MHz or faster processor with recommended 256 MB of memory, though Forrester reports that PCs must be faster and have more RAM to work efficiently.

"In addition you need to look into the server infrastructure," Bright Wire said. "You are talking about needing a lot of iron on the backside to handle the needs of the server to supply two to 16 desktops. All this adds up quickly and can easily swamp a datacenter."

Of course, there are upsides to desktop virtualization: It takes less time to get a user up and running after an event, and virtual desktops enable IT administrators to control end-user access through restrictions and requirements that are far less noticeable to end users. But still, the price for those benefits is too high, Bright Wire concluded.

Another user, Senior System Administrator Jeremy Page, opted for desktop virtualization using San Jose, Calif.-based Wyse Technology Inc. to move 170 users to VMs on VMware ESX Server with Wyse thin clients, connecting via RDP [Remote Desktop Protocol]. "So far it's worked very well and we're under budget," Page wrote in an email.

Page said his company purchased new servers just before deploying desktop virtualization, scaling the servers up from IBM x365s with 12 GB of RAM to IBM System x3850 M2s with 64 GB of RAM.

Page said that his company can fit about 80 workstations per IBM 3850 server, which are located in a VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler cluster. "We do have N+1 redundancy, so although our total workload could fit on five ESX servers we have six in case any of them goes down," he said.

Though virtual desktop infrastructure is a good option for some companies, others can fix desktop management hassles with alternative approaches, noted virtualization expert Anil Desai in an article on getting the benefits of VDI , including security and data back up, without investing in the software.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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