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For IT, desktop virtualization is a hard sell

It's still not clear whether desktop virtualization has any true value, but that may be because it's still early in the game.

The desktop management group at International Paper Co. has been shot down each time it approached the executive level about adopting desktop virtualization.

Many IT shops are finding it hard to make a business case for this emerging technology, said Ronald Thomas, a software delivery engineer with the Memphis, Tenn.-based company.

Unlike server virtualization, there are no solid case studies or statistics for IT to fall back on that show cost savings or a boost in IT productivity. And desktop virtualization is unproven as far as making it easier for users to get their jobs done more efficiently.

"We have a large concentration of employees in branch offices with many of these having less than 50 employees," Thomas said. "So [desktop virtualization] is hard to justify because these people have remote [physical] assets and they travel with them. Even if they were able to virtualize these assets, they still need to be managed by IT."


Dai Vu, Microsoft Director of Virtualization Products/Solutions, discusses the company's virtualization plan at MMS 2008.

Discussions surrounding desktop virtualization are widespread, but not much broad level deployment is happening because desktop virtualization is not yet proven both from a technology and value-add standpoint, said Dai Vu, director of Microsoft's virtualization products and solutions. The installations he said he sees are in verticals such as healthcare companies where staffs tend to roam from machine to machine.

Part of the challenge for desktop virtualization adoption is the immaturity of the products available today. An end-to-end product does not exist, Vu said, although the industry is getting closer. "No one company has it all," he said. "We, for example, are approaching VDI with Citrix XenDesktop leveraged on Hyper-V and VMM to deploy a virtual desktop infrastructure solution."

Managing unruly V-sprawl

There is also a concern about virtualization sprawl in general, with many IT administrators uncertain how virtualized desktops, applications and servers will be managed.

"It's easy to get this [technology] out there, but it's hard to manage," said Mark Vachon, a managing consultant out of San Antonio, Texas, with technology consulting firm Catapult Systems. "How do we know if it's truly being used? How do we make sure we know where it all is, and what if someone moves something around?"

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Customers that are looking at desktop virtualization at this point are doing so largely to address incompatibility issues with Vista when it comes time to migrate to the new OS, Vachon said.

The same holds true internally for Amtrust Bank, which is exploring its desktop virtualization options to address legacy application incompatibilities with Vista, said Matt Gerlak, systems engineer with the Cleveland, Ohio-based bank. His management concern with desktop virtualization is that it will be installed and managed by people without a high level of technical skills.

"I can see someone without the right technical experience just putting this out there and not sequencing it right or skipping a process," Gerlak said.

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