As Windows 7 gains steam, VDI set to rise

Big adoption numbers of virtual desktops expected on the back of the latest OS

The growing maturity of virtual desktop technologies and customer interest in Windows 7 has virtual desktop infrastructure  vendors expecting big adoption numbers in 2010. But while most CIOs are at least thinking about desktop virtualization, this year's projects may be limited to pilots and small deployments because of up-front costs and technology challenges that hamper user experience.

An ITIC survey of more than 800 businesses worldwide shows that 31% of respondents plan to implement VDI this year, more than double the previous year. A related technology, application virtualization, is also on the upswing with 37% of respondents planning implementations, an increase from 15% the previous year. Likewise, Gartner has found that 33% of organizations plan to deploy hosted virtual desktops in 2010.

The flip side to those numbers is that about two-thirds of customers either won't deploy desktop and application virtualization this year, or are undecided. There's good reason for that, says Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

"The ROI case for virtual desktops [over three to five years] is break-even at best right now," Wolf says. "Contrary to what vendors are claiming, the ROI isn't there for a large-scale, server-hosted virtual desktop deployment." (See related story: "5 virtual desktop pitfalls".)

Some early adopters say they have saved money by prolonging the life of PCs or using less expensive thin clients, and that hosting desktop images in the data center improves manageability and makes it easier to restore an employee's desktop in case of device failure. (See related story about Amerisure's VDI deployment.)

But moving desktop images and applications from the user's hands to the data center requires a major shift in both IT infrastructure and mindset. Network director John Turner of Brandeis University in Massachusetts has embraced server virtualization but is still skeptical about the technology's counterpart on the desktop. If a server goes down, users can probably still connect to the Internet and get work done. But "if a desktop shuts down, it's a whole different story," Turner says. "Folks will be dead in the water." VDI also requires significant IT staff training, he says.

But with many businesses planning to upgrade to the Windows 7 operating system, IT departments are taking a closer look at virtual desktop models. Vista never really caught on the way XP did, but Windows 7 is another story.

"Windows 7 is definitely a catalyst," Wolf says. "It's a good operating system certainly, but with the pending XP end-of-life in another four years, there are a lot of enterprises planning their next-generation desktops. They understand they have to retool their desktop infrastructure. That's causing them to put everything on the table, including desktop virtualization."

Wolf believes 2010 will be the year enterprises "kick the tires," and start small pilots. But even those who adopt desktop virtualization aren't likely to virtualize their entire desktop infrastructures right away, he says. "In terms of wholesale virtualization of the desktop, I don't think we're anywhere close at this point," Wolf says.

The typical CIO has a "dose of skepticism," says Phil Grove, global director of end user services at CSC, an IT outsourcing firm. "There are not a lot of people doing it at scale yet."

There are numerous models for enterprises to consider within the desktop virtualization realm. There's presentation virtualization, which executes applications on a server and remotely presents the application interface to a user's endpoint device, according to Burton Group.

VDI is generally synonymous with server-hosted virtual desktops, but is slightly different than presentation virtualization. Server virtualization is typically the back-end platform for VDI, with each desktop running inside an isolated server-based virtual machine.

Other forms of desktop virtualization include blade PCs and client-hosted virtual desktops. A blade PC runs in the data center and can be accessed remotely by client devices, but each blade PC can only serve one user at a time. Client-hosted virtualization, on the other hand, puts the desktop hypervisor on the desktop machine itself, requiring a more robust client device but also providing better options for offline access. Client-hosted virtualization is becoming popular with organizations that let employees bring their own PCs to work, Grove says.

You can also expect some cloud-hosted desktop offerings to emerge. The vendor Virtual Bridges has taken a step in this direction by offering hosted virtual desktops running in Rackspace data centers.

VMware and Citrix have run into roadblocks in their plans to build bare-metal hypervisors -- virtualization software that runs directly on system hardware instead of on top of a host operating system -- for desktop PCs. But both companies, as well as Microsoft, are staying busy on the desktop front.

VMware recently upgraded its ThinApp application virtualization software to improve migration of applications from older versions of Windows to Windows 7. Microsoft, meanwhile, has lowered the price of licensing the Windows operating system in virtual desktop deployments, and announced new bundles with Citrix designed to lure customers away from VMware.

Specifically, Microsoft and Citrix are offering a year's worth of free desktop virtualization for as many as 500 users for companies that switch from VMware View to Citrix's XenDesktop VDI and Microsoft VDI.

Whether a customer opts for VMware, Citrix or Microsoft on the virtualization side, upgrades in Windows 7 will increase the viability of virtual desktop deployments, experts say.

IT manger Dan Powers of Cox Communications who runs VMware View and is testing Windows 7 for a potential upgrade, says Windows 7 desktop images can be built in a modular fashion, making them less data-intensive. Whereas Cox's XP images are 10GB apiece, a Windows 7 desktop image can be 2GB or even less.

"It's a modular approach to building your desktop," he says. Whereas XP is "an all-or-nothing deal," Windows 7 desktop images allow Powers to strip out unnecessary components, he says. "I don't need this big, bloated operating system anymore."

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.

Tags MicrosoftVMwarevirtualizationCitrixWindows 7cscburton groupVirtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Brodkin

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

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!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?