For Jake Seitz, expanding his company's VMware server virtualization deployment to include desktops was driven by compliance requirements and a move away from supporting desktop hardware. The enterprise architect at The First American Corp. in Santa Ana, Calif., says his group may be supporting less desktop hardware, but now they are responsible for maintaining "all these unique virtual machines." With 22,000 desktops, Seitz says the plan is to migrate 3,000 to 4,000 per year as hardware comes off its lease or as it fails –- a plan that will help his team stay on top of the new virtual environment as well.
"The desktop has its own challenges, including the uniqueness of images personalized by end users. With a ‘patch once and push many' approach, the risk of breaking software goes up exponentially," Seitz says. "We have one-off machines in legal or finance, for instance, and we patch them ad hoc as needed. We realize we can't do desktops in a big bang move; it has to be an incremental move."
Double the cost, half the ROI
While server virtualization virtually guarantees a speedy ROI, desktop virtualization can be cost-prohibitive to start and deliver a somewhat less immediate and difficult-to-quantify return on the substantial investment.
Analysts estimate choosing virtual desktops can cost 150 to 250 percent more than traditional PCs -- and that's just for the direct cost of acquiring the technology. Savvy IT managers realize when pricing out a project they need to also calculate indirect costs.
"Desktop virtualization is a lot like hybrid cars. No one disputes the value and they love the idea, but it is just too expensive to write a check and pay a lot when the traditional version is cheaper and already paid for," Gartner's Margevicius says.
Yet for some organizations the benefits are enough to warrant the investment. For Kevin Nolan, the potential cost, time and labor savings associated with virtual desktops is driving his organization to evaluate the technology. Nolan, manager of systems engineering at Mohawk Industries in Calhoun, Ga., says his company is expanding their use of virtualization technology beyond the 500 VMware virtual servers his group supports. Nolan, who will be speaking at this month's Network World IT Roadmap Atlanta, says adopting virtual desktops would enable his company to extend the refresh cycle on PCs.
"If you have a virtual desktop, you can stretch hardware for more like five or six years, rather than the standard three-year PC refresh cycle," Nolan says. "With a lot less hardware, there are a lot fewer opportunities to break and have to fix machines."
Considering the cost, Nolan says his desktop and server team are working together to evaluate several vendors, including VMware and Citrix. Nolan realizes the desktop realm requires expertise in managing multiple PCs, which Citrix has mastered, but because the technology will reside in the data center and involve the server group, VMware might be a better option.
Analysts say customers could realize price cuts if they did add desktop technology from their virtual server vendor. "Definitely, the more customers buy from one vendor, the more discounts they will receive and the lower the cost per seat could be," Forrester's Lambert says.