Who should use desktop virtualization or SaaS?

Who needs a virtual hosted desktop and who needs a fat client? Maybe a remotely provisioned service is best? It depends on each user's situation.

Virtually hosted desktops and applications as well as software services have the potential to cut the amount of work it takes to manage end-user desktops. Exactly how IT managers choose to tackle the problem with today's tools depends largely on which population of end users they are serving.

For a virtual hosted desktop, IT managers should consider whether an end user needs to run a desktop locally or on the device. The decision comes down to whether or not this person travels and needs offline access. For the vast majority of people, there may be no reason to run a desktop locally.

Virtualization and the changing Windows desktop

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Virtual desktops can clean house but move cautiously

Why SaaS is not a desktop replacement

Key terms and definitions

IT managers have to think about employee demographics and determine if they are looking to save money or generate new capabilities. Software as a service (SaaS) can let companies create a temporary team of workers from different companies who come together for a unique project.

This is particularly true with the emergence of provisioned office-type suites from companies like Google Inc. and AdventNet Inc. These applications are often referred to as Office 2.0, which generically refers to the emergence of provisioned applications that don't require installation and allow concurrent collaboration.

Corporate requirements versus user experience

At Partners Healthcare System Inc. in Boston, IT has used the same corporate desktop model for years, with various build prototypes -- privates, publics, kiosks and "clinicals." The degrees of difference are more related to management than resulting from a user-driven experience, said Christopher Gervais, enterprise IT architect at Partners Healthcare.

Now, the IT team at Partners is starting to discuss options that might address ways to give workers in its clinical computing environment on Windows PCs better flexibility. "When you have a big multi-user environment, the classic Windows desktop model starts to have constraints -- not in terms of performance, but usability," Gervais said.

Partners is evaluating options -- from blade PCs to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure from VMware Inc. The starting point will be Windows, but Gervais said the company needs to think about how to manage those sessions in a different format.

Make decisions to virtualize carefully

It's also important to choose carefully which end users are placed into a virtual environment. Corporate requirements change so frequently that it's possible IT managers might decide to provision an end user in one way, but it may not meet their needs soon thereafter. "You can't keep changing solutions," said Dave Driggers, desktop team leader at Alabama Gas Co. in Birmingham, Ala.

And if the decision is to launch a virtually hosted desktop project because it might bring cost savings, start off slow. Pick one group within the company to act as a test case.

"Look for a group whose stuff doesn't change," said Rich DeBrino, CIO at Compass Health Inc. in Everett, Wash. "Virtualize it through a Citrix farm or VMware, and show everyone what it did to reduce manpower and [the number of] tickets you have on the help desk. Build your case slowly."

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