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Moving beyond server virtualization

On the desktop, virtualization helping with security, management.

By , Network World
January 09, 2006 12:08 AM ET

Network World - Baker Hill, an Experian subsidiary that provides IT services to the banking industry, has used virtualization technology for years.

Initially, the firm began using virtualization software from VMware to take control of a sprawling number of servers and workstations that were sucking power and becoming tough to cool, says Eric Beasley, senior network administrator at Baker Hill in Carmel, Ind. More recently, the firm has been looking at virtualizing its PCs and laptops.

But unlike with server virtualization, consolidation and management aren't the major issues. On the desktop, virtualization is under consideration to help with security.

Slice and dice desktops

Increasingly, enterprise customers are starting to look at slicing and dicing desktop CPUs, just as they are doing with server CPUs, to isolate and secure workloads on single physical systems. This approach to desktop virtualization goes beyond the more common practice, in which applications and workloads are hosted at a remote location for centralized management and remote access.

"Our professional-services folks have client data in their possession that typically is of a financial nature and private," Beasley says. "We were concerned that if Baker Hill were to have a laptop stolen that we would be held liable, because our laptops are unencrypted."

The firm began looking at encryption technology, but that approach required entire disks to be encrypted and seemed too bulky and time-consuming, Beasley says. Baker Hill decided on VMware Ace, VMware's desktop virtualization software.

With VMware Ace, Beasley can create isolated virtual machines - software files that contain an operating system, applications and related data - on single physical systems and then encrypt specific virtual machines, rather than encrypting hardware.

"So we can create virtual machines that have the tools that our professional-service folks need to manipulate and store data," he says. "The entire [virtual machine] is encrypted, not the entire disk. We figured there was no point in encrypting the underlying host operating system and things like e-mail."

In the proving ground

While the idea of carving single physical servers into multiple virtual containers that can be run and managed separately has become mainstream in most data centers, the technology is still in the proving ground on the client side.

"Desktop virtualization is about two years behind server virtualization," says Tom Bittman, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "It's a completely different trend. While server virtualization is about saving money and consolidation, on the desktop it's much more about isolation, about being able to do different things on the same machine."

Flexibility and manageability are drawing more enterprise users to look at the technology. The goal is to create a more dynamic and efficient hardware environment. At the same time, a growing number of software vendors are rolling out desktop-virtualization offerings, which means end users should find better products and better prices in 2006.

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