Desktop virtualization is gaining traction

Trends, new product introductions show increased demand for the technology

The market for desktop virtualization is hitting a growth spurt, given a run of new product introductions and research showing increased demand for the technology.

Rather than install software on each desktop computer in an enterprise, companies are looking to their vendors for a cheaper and more manageable way.

Another catalyst for desktop virtualization is the introduction of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system (OS). The new OS may require a hardware upgrade, but running Vista virtually avoids that cost.

There are two different approaches to desktop virtualization. In one, a desktop's OS and software applications reside on a remote server and multiple desktops can access those programs. In the other, a desktop computer is turned into several "virtual machines" allowing it to, just like a virtualized server, run multiple applications and OSs simultaneously.

"What we're seeing is that large and medium organizations are beginning to pilot," said Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing officer for Virtual Iron, which is expected to introduce a desktop virtualization product in the near future.

ClearCube Technology is introducing Tuesday Sentral version 5.5, an upgrade of its desktop virtualization software. ClearCube powers a desktop either from physical blade servers in the data center or virtual servers running VMware Inc.'s virtualization software. Different OSs and applications can be fed into one desktop. ClearCube already offers a 1:1 connection between a desktop and a remote server but version 5.5 is the first to offer virtualization.

ClearCube is primarily used in highly specialized environments like military or hospital settings, said Tom Josefy, ClearCube's director of product management.

The setup works for hospitals because with the server in the data center, the only hardware at the user's location is a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. "Customers use it in operating rooms because the desktop unit can be hermetically sealed. It's got no moving parts, no fans, so it's easy to keep it sterile," Josefy said.

Citrix Systems, known for server-based delivery of software applications to desktops, Monday introduced Desktop Server 1.0, its first desktop virtualization product. It is designed to be secure, simplify migration from one OS to another and save on desktop management costs.

Manageability is the main driver of desktop virtualization, cited by 36 percent of chief information officers polled in a Goldman Sachs Group IT spending survey. Other concerns were security (32 percent) and cost (29 percent).

Vista has become another catalyst for desktop virtualization as IT managers worry the new OS will force them into an expensive hardware upgrade. On April 2, Microsoft modified its Vista licenses to give companies the right to run Vista from servers onto thin-client desktops for no extra charge. It also created a new subscription license called Windows Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktops, which allows customers to host Vista in virtual machines on centrally-managed servers that can be streamed out to PCs.

"I think it does reflect a recognition [by Microsoft] that customers see a lot of value to virtualizing their desktops,"' said Jerry Chen, director of enterprise desktop platforms and solutions for VMware. "If you look at the next five to 10 years, running the operating system in a virtual machine will be the default situation, not the exception, for how you deploy an operating system."