Ahead of the Curve: Virtualisation and the client conundrum

If you view system virtualisation as an escalating priority, this is a good time to stop and think about client systems and applications before dipping your brush and drawing that first block in a grand virtualisation architecture.

My visions for virtualisation oriented architecture (VOA) hold that operating system instances are to be regarded as services, which doesn't really address the client. Right now, your customers probably operate a network of traditional fat PC or Mac clients equipped to run an OS and applications locally, which have back-end servers mostly doing the old file/print/collaboration thing. Unless they run a very small shop, that traditional client/server model will siphon away some of the bottom-line benefits associated with VOA.

So, if you don't have a client strategy mapped out in advance, you'll have no way to size, meter and tune server virtualisation solutions.

One tried-and-true approach is to think thin. Thin-client systems push the bulk of the user-generated workload, or all of it, to servers.

Each thin client interacts with a back-end process that virtualises anything from a user session in a single instance of a multi-user OS, such as Microsoft Terminal Server, Citrix or Unix X Window System, to a complete virtual machine with its own OS instance, such as VMware ESX Server.

Thin-client technology may not seem glamorous, but it is woefully underutilised. Whatever you decide to do on the server side of the VOA plan, thin clients will fit in perfectly.

For typical corporate desktop users, thin is just right and VOA-friendly. The cost on the server side used to be high, but with the era of 1U, eight-core racks and 10 Gigabit Ethernet heading for the mainstream in 2007, there's no question that server-hosted apps will be cheaper than desktops.

Thin requires extra planning in terms of arranging offline access to data and apps for roaming users - the fewer of these you have, the more sense thin makes - and potentially mapping out wireless coverage zones. Stick with me; we'll work through that.

An alternative for organisations that either need to keep firepower on users' desks or don't have as many seats to serve is application virtualisation, an approach that Softricity is making more attractive with SoftGrid 4.0. The idea behind SoftGrid is that servers host images of individual applications rather than images of complete virtual systems. When a user double-clicks on an application's icon to launch it, SoftGrid streams down to the client only as much of that application's executable data as is required to get it running.

Then, whenever the app reaches out for an external resource such as a dynamically loadable library, SoftGrid streams that piece, and only that piece, down to the client in real time.

The kicker here is that applications are never truly installed on users' systems. SoftGrid virtualises just enough of Windows to create a container that tricks each application into thinking it's been fully installed. This is far more efficient and much easier to monitor and control than launching applications from network drives, and it carries none of thin clients' burden on server resources.

And like thin clients, application virtualisation is VOA-friendly because users don't need to know or care where their applications live. And there's a bonus: SoftGrid accommodates roaming and offline usage.

I tend to lay VOA out as a great banquet, but you might be wise to take it in small bites. The client is a good place to start.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tom Yager

Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?