Virtualization - Breaking up is hard to do

Desktop virtualization concepts and benefits have already been proven out, largely through old-school remote-desktop products from companies like Citrix Systems and Microsoft. We know the benefits of standardization, managing better desktop change control, remote desktop access, desktop and data storage, and business continuity. Desktop virtualization has already begun the march to take over previous remote-desktop technologies.

When I asked Citrix Virtualization CTO Simon Crosby during our recent podcast interview (Part 1 and Part 2) if XenSource was bought by Citrix because virtualization will replace existing Citrix technologies, his response was, "that's a very insightful question." I'll take that as a yes.  But what hasn't shaken out are the forms of desktop virtualization that we'll use as commonplace application-delivery tools. Debates talking about any single approach winning out are shortsighted because we'll need to support more scenarios than just virtualizing a call center or users' general-purpose desktops. Talking about desktop virtualization and not including application virtualization paints an incomplete picture.

Should the entire desktop be virtualized, much like the Citrix environment we've known in the past? That in some ways is the easiest, least painful transition step to make towards a virtualized desktop environment. But it comes with the same downsides, such as requiring an always-on connection, underutilized desktop power, unmet graphics-processing needs and limitations imposed by bandwidth speeds. I believe virtualizing the entire desktop is a viable option, but only a short-term one.

Powerful desktop PCs aren't going away. It doesn't make sense for the pendulum to swing all the way back to the dumb terminal or time-sharing operating system mainframe days. Neither are the mobility and distributed needs of applications and users going away. Have you checked out how many desktop apps and Web 2.0 apps have appeared on the Apple Store for iPhones lately? That's just the start. Every desktop virtualization "nail" can't be driven by the same virtualization solution "hammer." Streaming applications and containerizing applications are also part of the desktop-virtualization solution.

Isolating applications into virtually installed apps represents one of the more exciting moves to virtualized desktops. Imagine running an application on your desktop, laptop or mobile computer that operates as a single .exe, doesn't get installed, and operates with many fewer software-compatibility issues and registry entanglements. Virtualized apps can but don't have to be streamed across the network, giving users much more flexibility in how they use desktop and application virtualization. Softricity SoftGrid, Kidaro and Calista (Microsoft), XenApp (Citrix) and ThinStall (VMware) are examples of application-virtualization technologies the big boys have acquired over the past view years.

The future's an exciting one and is still unfolding. Commuting gas prices, and events like the upcoming DNC convention in Denver are making the need to work remotely all too real for workers. Security looms as an issue yet to be fully dealt with. And we're now just beginning to understand the real limitations inherent in fully virtualizing the data center. Those issues still have to be driven out and dealt with in the desktop- and application-virtualization space. But the business and user benefits are too compelling to let those obstacles become roadblocks. 

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