Leveraging Desktop Virtualization

Special Report: Virtual Desktop

Leveraging Desktop Virtualization to Gain Greater Control, Security, Efficiency

By Barbara DePompa

As public sector organizations strive to grant employees access to internal information resources when and where they need it while simultaneously reducing costs, desktop virtualization is one alternative that may help meet those goals, in addition to providing both greater control over PC resources and stronger IT security.

According to industry observers, interest in desktop virtualization remains high despite the ongoing sluggish economy. Research from IDC indicates the market may reach $1.7 billion in revenue by 2011. And similar research from Gartner Inc., projects 49 million desktop computers will be virtualized by 2013, up from 500,000 today.

Key Drivers and Benefits
Several market drivers spurring the growth of desktop virtualization were outlined in a June webinar sponsored by GTSI, Citrix, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, including:

• A recent survey by the 1105 Government Information Group reported 60% of federal IT managers plan to migrate to Windows 7 in six months or more, as part of their normal PC and laptop refresh cycles. It's anticipated many organizations will start evaluating desktop virtualization when engaged in the multiple-month rollout of the operating system, because the need to replace aging OS software and desktop PCs will provide an opportunity to introduce thin clients and virtualization.

• At the same time, federal IT organizations will be challenged by Windows XP 'end of life' issues. Microsoft has reported its XP extended support will end in 2014. By 2012, Gartner analysts have reported most independent software developers will stop producing XP applications.

• Public sector organizations also face new mandates designed to help move government organizations toward cloud computing services. In addition, an OMB directive encourages the use of virtualization by 2011, to help meet data center consolidation and energy reduction requirements. Virtualization is now considered a stepping stone to cloud computing, and desktop virtualization, while only a subset, is also considered a step in the right direction toward achieving federal regulatory compliance.

• The advent of Windows 7 is viewed by many industry observers as Microsoft's expansion of desktop virtualization features into the mainstream. Windows 7 delivers granular control through group policies that allow, for example, organizations to set when desktops go to 'hibernate' mode, which could help reduce enterprise-wide energy consumption. Other enhancements in desktop support capabilities, easier patch management, application management and improved security, among other features highlight the ways Windows 7 and desktop virtualization can work hand in hand.

• Research from Forrester Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., early in 2010 on the economics of migrating to Windows 7, included survey information from 12 'early adopter' companies with 5,000 or more employees. The improvements reported by these organizations in terms of administration and management capabilities, security features and centralized management of branch office and remote users, led Forrester to estimate an average 129% return on investment, in seven months.

One of the June webinar sponsors, GTSI, is currently investigating a migration to desktop virtualization as the organization plans its migration from XP to Windows 7. "We have a large population of users located on a single campus with some additional employees who function remotely. Our goal is to gain confidence that data is secure, even as users seek access to information both on campus and remotely," said Denise Harrison, CIO and Vice President, GTSI.

After only seven months of availability, Windows 7 reportedly garners 13 percent of global operating system market share, according to market research from Net Applications, in Aliso Viejo, Ca.

Noteworthy Challenges
Complexity issues predominate, as no single desktop virtualization provider can yet address each customer's unique desktop computing challenges. "It's important to investigate the differing solutions available, as desktop virtualization is about much more than just virtual desktop integration (VDI) or hosted virtual desktops," said Miguel Sian, Sr. Enterprise Solutions Consultant for GTSI, who explained that organizations with many mobile users, for example, may find VDI isn't a good fit, while a virtual client or an application solution that allows them to work offline and later dock their systems to synch up might work more appropriately to meet those needs.

Also in many cases, industry observers said the smaller start up suppliers are moving fastest to provide innovative, simplistic management solutions for desktop services. "Government agencies must try to pay equal attention to all desktop virtualization suppliers, to avoid spending too much on a solution that may not perfectly fit requirements, as there are often less expensive alternatives available that might fit better into the organization's requirements," said Ian Song, Research Analyst for IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Looking ahead, Song said the current hot topic in desktop virtualization is the concept of a 'virtual computer,' which is essentially a thin client version that's more mature, less complex and works on most any hardware platform. Some agencies, meanwhile, are seeking local desktop computers that feature the ability to isolate users based on security clearance or the classification level of information to be accessed. The ability to do that on a single computer, with separate virtual machine images residing on the same physical hardware platform, would be extremely beneficial, Song explained.

Desktop Virtualization Benefits

According to industry supplier GTSI, the primary benefits of migrating to desktop virtualization include the ability for public sector organizations to:
* Reduce costs and complexity;
* Migrate easily to new software with available tools;
* Consume less power;
* Enhance security and control;
* Protect data on PCs and portable devices;
* Protect users and infrastructure;
* Increase user productivity by performing everyday tasks faster and easier;
* Enable access to information from anywhere quickly.