Why the Desktop and Everything Else in IT Is Going Virtual

Human beings often exclaim in exasperation that they wish they could clone themselves so that they could get more done each day. Machines have already beat us on the cloning front. Thanks to the magic of virtualization technology, virtual machines can replicate IT resources in the way that humans wish they could.

A virtual server acts like a physical server, only it doesn’t physically exist — it is carved out of a larger server running virtualization software. A virtual server is efficient and economical, and most importantly, it scales.

The same forces that have driven companies to invest in server virtualization are also driving a shift toward the hosted (or virtual) desktop.

The desktop, in most cases, has become synonymous with the concept of the computer. At the same time, you can’t forget the “personal” part of a “personal computer.” People decorate their desktops with pictures or other widgets in order to make it their own. When you log on to a computer, you will get a different desktop background and experience, depending on the user. With a physical computer, your desktop is tied to that computer, but with a virtual desktop, your desktop can live on any piece of hardware.

In a virtual desktop environment, you still get the personalization of a traditional desktop. The big difference is that you are accessing your desktop via the Internet (a network connection), and all of your files and applications reside on a remotely hosted and managed location. In the same way that you access a virtual server, a virtual desktop is a user’s space carved out of a larger environment that may be hosting other users’ desktops as well.

The Benefits of a Virtual Desktop

By adopting a virtual desktop model, companies save money by freeing themselves from having to purchase, configure and deploy expensive physical desktops or laptops to employees. Yes, to be effective, employees need devices in order to access their hosted desktop, but these could be affordable tablets, inexpensive laptops or PCs, or thin clients.

Furthermore, organizations can deploy instances of these hosted desktops across their business for a fixed monthly price, which means that costs are predictable. Couple this with a reduction of on-going maintenance costs and companies can begin realizing cost savings almost immediately.

Another benefit of the virtual desktop is that it protects employee productivity in the event of an IT failure or malfunction. If employees need to access their computers from a remote location (e.g., home or another business), they simply go online and log on to their hosted desktop.

How Can Virtual Desktops Help?

Assuming you have a reasonably stable and speedy network connection, a hosted desktop acts the same way a local machine would.

IT shops can deploy clones of standard desktops, with the appropriate configurations and software, within minutes, dramatically reducing the on-boarding time of new employees. To manage existing installations, the IT department’s workload can be reduced because resources can now be centrally managed.

Most important is the added layer of security of a virtual desktop. For starters, the servers hosting these desktops reside within a physically secure environment. There is nothing more dangerous than a laptop out in the field, where it can be lost or stolen.

In the event that an employee’s device is stolen, it is much easier to shut off access to the hosted desktop environment, preventing unauthorized eyes from seeing private company information, than it is to lock down and wipe a traditional laptop.

Additionally, when it comes to backups, many organizations simply put the responsibility on end users to do backups or choose to ignore it completely. With a hosted desktop, IT departments can automatically back up these environments in secure locations, minimizing the potential for data loss.

The Four-Part Case for Virtual Desktops

There are a few reasons why a company may want to virtualize something:

  1. Cost savings
  2. Efficiency
  3. Centralization of resources
  4. Compatibility

The most important benefit of hosted desktop virtualization for many companies is cost savings. By abstracting IT resources from the hardware layer, there is a dramatic reduction in capital expenditure. Something virtual doesn’t need to be purchased physically, so a CapEx savings means a better bottom line.

IT equipment that is virtualized becomes much more efficient. You can make exact replicas and be assured that one will act and perform in the exact same way as another.

It also makes IT management less overwhelming. One of the biggest nightmares for a systems administrator is server sprawl, where servers and other IT resources are spread around, underutilized or requisitioned or not used at all. With virtualization, you know where your desktops and servers are at all times.

Everything is centralized. Virtualized copies of things (clones) are identical, which means that they have a high degree of compatibility, at least initially. Over time and with use, they may become more unique, but they’ll still share many similar characteristics.

These four key elements of desktop virtualization should pique the interest of any company seeking increased reliability, enhanced security and device flexibility.

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