Virtual Desktops are more than just Desktops!

This is not a new rant for me, but reminders seem to come in regularly, such as this latest update on Microsoft’s Virtual PC – Core Security Technologies Discovers Vulnerability in Key Microsoft Virtualization Technology.

One thing that I really hope the virtualization community “gets” soon is that there is a lot more to Virtual Desktops than just the desktop. Seriously, virtual desktops have been around for almost 40 years in various forms. I think we know how to “pretend” that a user’s desktop is in front of him or her, when it is actually in a datacenter or somewhere else. We can easily do that in dozens of ways, a few of the more popular being Terminal Services (I think the new name is Remote Desktop Services), VDI, blades, etc. And there are all sorts of tools to orchestrate, connect, duplicate, and share these various desktops and make them available at remote offices, beaches and on the moon (I’ll have to check that last one). But it doesn’t seem to be the panacea that many have tried to make it.

I am encouraged by a couple of trends. First, there is greater acknowledgement recently that no one computing model will satisfy all needs – yes, some vendors are even saying this out in the open (as in the recent Citrix Geek Speak Virtual event “Desktop Virtualization Vendors Speak Out” that I participated in). Second, in spite of all of the promises, there is a realization that simply virtualizing the desktop does not magically make it cheaper, more secure, easier to manage, or less prone to helpdesk calls. Why is that?

It’s because not much really changes when the desktop moves from the distributed system to the datacenter. Sure, it’s harder to lose a virtual desktop at the airport. But the bulk of the cost of a desktop has always been the applications, ongoing maintenance, security, conflict resolution, etc. In short, the cost comes from the stuff that is ON the desktop far more than the desktop itself. Why would we expect that to be any different just because we’ve moved the desktop to the data center where it is now sharing hardware and is no longer a physical system? No wonder some are finding this approach even more complex and more costly. Don’t get me wrong; there are many scenarios where different virtual desktop models are the right model to use. But let’s base that conclusion on actual, rather than assumed, merits.

So the more things change, the more they stay the same. No matter what kind of desktop you have, and you probably have several, you still have to manage the basics – security, applications, licenses, updates, conflicts, profiles. You just need to make sure you can economically handle all of these issues across all of your platforms, preferably seamlessly.

About Brian Duckering

Technology evangelist, mobility strategist, backpacker, father, husband.
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