IT shops all ears about virtualizing desktops

Application and desktop virtualization have officially captured the fancy of IT managers -- if the energy at iForum 07 is any indicator.

LAS VEGAS – Windows managers envision many ways that application and desktop virtualization can save their enterprises money, and virtually everyone at a Citrix Systems Inc. IT confab seems to have at least one initiative underway with others in the backs of their minds.

At iForum 07 here this week, managers said that home workers and the potential to save money by having fewer sites to support are the major desktop virtualization drivers.

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IT managers also cited the possibility for better branch office service delivery, disaster recovery techniques and thin client management.

"Everyone is in the midst of virtualization initiatives," said George Zahora, manager of IT at JMK/IIT Inc., a Bridgeview, Ill., distributor of hand tools and general merchandise throughout the United States. "The only thing in the way is the money."

Many in the crowd of roughly 4,000 IT managers are running both Citrix Presentation Server for thin client application delivery and server virtualization technology from VMware Inc. As for the desktops that are not part of call centers, some of the IT managers said they would like to virtualize as many of those as they can too.

For example, Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) is running a credit card call center for a customer using Citrix Presentation Server. The systems integrator also uses VMware technology to allow non-CSC developers to have access to CSC servers without having access to corporate enterprise data.

"My job is to get away from all the fat clients," said Nathan Valencia, a desktop architect at CSC, based in San Diego.

Valencia said he plans to keep a close eye on Citrix's new desktop virtualization technology, XenDesktop, which will be out sometime in the first half of 2008.

Flint Energy Services, a Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada-based provider of construction services to the energy industry, is also looking for ways to streamline PC support. The company wants to come up with more plans for disaster recovery and improve services to branch offices as well.

In recent years, the company has moved from full-blown desktops for everyone to cutting back on those who have CD-ROM drives or on-board hard disks. Today, of its 1,500 end users, about 500 to 600 are on thin clients.

Almost anyone who doesn't need mobile capabilities is a potential candidate for a virtualized desktop, said Donovan Elder, an IT manager at Flint Energy Services, which uses both Citrix and VMware products.

Next year Elder plans to do some fact finding to really see what should be virtualized. The company plans to review its servers and consolidate where it can. After that it will turn its attention to the applications.

"It's a growing pain with the data center," he said. "If you virtualize, then less room is needed, so [there is] less cost, hardware and heat. But you can do it all. We are discussing what to do."

At the conference here, Mark Templeton, president and CEO at Citrix Systems, which has its headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., outlined his company's strategy for expanding its product base beyond the thin client. He said the company has recently invested $1.85 billion in online services.

Everyone is
in the midst of virtualization initiatives.
The only thing in the way is
the money.

--George Zahora, manager of IT at JMK/IIT Inc.,

The company has rededicated itself to three things: the delivery of applications as a service; building dynamic data centers versus static ones; and the delivery of desktops as a service, Templeton said.

Templeton described a world where the operating system, the application component engines, such as SQL Server, and the desktop applications themselves would function as a workload, or data center unit of work, that would be treated as a stateless, reusable component with loose run-time coupling.

"Store the [whole stack] in a stateless mode, bring them together to deliver instead of having one workload per server," Templeton said.

This way IT can think of multiple workloads per server or servers. Desktop or application delivery in this manner won't be here tomorrow because it's still too complex today. But it's a problem that Citrix intends to solve with its technologies and partners, he said.

For some IT managers, the lightning fast changes using all forms of virtualization may create problems if technology shifts while IT shops are mid-way through their installations. JMK/IIT's Zahora said he believes there is some element of frustration among IT managers who are worried that their new products might become obsolete before they've had a chance to finish their projects.

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