Desktop virtualization: Making PCs manageable

Virtualization can reduce the time and expense of managing desktops by a magnitude. But the choice of technologies and approaches is downright dizzying

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Desktop and application streaming require IT to think differently about tasks that they’ve done for years, notes Neal of Duncan Regional Hospital. “It takes a little more thought in the rollout,” he says. For example, his support staff now has to keep an eye on the blades that serve the desktop environments, because a broken fan can cause them to overheat, knocking out multiple users in one blow. His staff also must monitor disk usage for each blade, because 80GB is shared among three users.

Virtualized desktops can be provisioned to specific client hardware, so a particular call-center terminal always uses the same virtual machine on a specific blade. But they can also be provisioned to specific users, based on user log-in, so the client device running them could be anywhere. That can pose a challenge for setting up access to printers and departmental file servers, depending on how mobile users are, observes Bell’s Quigley.

Quigley notes another issue that can puzzle support staff: Users connecting from home may not get their DNS address resolved properly, so IT tends to assign a fixed IP address to get around that issue. But the Windows virtual machines are rebooted each night to deal with memory leaks, and the IP address for that virtual machine might no longer match what is set up in the remote user’s home system.

Nonetheless, early adopters all agree that these relatively minor issues are far outweighed by the benefits of central administration of fewer desktop images. As IDC’s Humphreys says, “There are some really pragmatic reasons that this is taking off.”

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