What happened to virtual desktops?

What happened to virtual desktops?

Summary: With all of the technology that has been launched or announced in 2009, why hasn't every desktop become virtual?


Virtual desktops, the combination of virtual access, application virtualization and virtual machine software, has been a force in marketing of virtualization technology for years.  When some of the technology that was announced by folks; such as Citrix, Ceedo, Ericom, Install Free, Microsoft, Pano Logic, Parallels, Quest/Provision Networks, VMware (VMware View), Xenocode and many others; one would think that this approach would be found at almost every desktop. It isn't. The key question is why?

It is clear that managing desktop systems, dealing with both operating system and application updates, helping folks deal with things that went bump in the night and other issues such as security for mobile systems is costing organizations more time and money than they'd really like to invest. Desktop virtualization offers the hope of getting this under control.

In no particular order, here are a few of the issues that get in the way.

  • Today's approach (i.e., applications and operating systems running directly on physical systems) is workable albeit complex and expensive. The first golden rule of IT (see Reprise of the Golden Rules of IT for more detail on the golden rules) says "if it is not broken, don't fix it."
  • Most desktop virtualization approaches require some changes to operation of desktop systems, applications  and the like. The second golden rule of IT is "don't touch it, you'll break it." So, many organizations would rather leave well enough alone.
  • The performance characteristics of virtualized systems differs from physical systems and while those differences get smaller and smaller with each generation of hardware and virtualization technology, differences often lead to support issues. While these can be minor on a person-by-person basis, larger organizations can see these issues add up into a significant investment in support time.
  • People have come to see the machine issued by the company as their tool. They've often customized the systems to better fit their working style, their personality and some of these changes would be problematic in a virtual world. The problem, by the way, isn't the customization itself. It is with the approaches used to move people's work environment from the physical to the virtual. It is far easier to move standardized work environments than it is with a whole herd of one-off environments so IT administrators often try to use this migration as a way to lasso users and drag them to a single standard environment. People don't like being lassoed and dragged.

Some suppliers, such as Parallels and VMware, are offering tools to make migrations from physical to virtual much easier. I tried to deploy a couple of these on an experimental basis and found that I couldn't make them work within the time I could spare to play.

Quite a few of the issues revolve around the human consciousness and not around technological issues. It is quite possible that the trend towards cloud-based personal productivity applications such as Email, document management and calendar management might make it easier for organizations to move to virtual environments. We'll just have to see what happens in 2010 to know if this approach will become more prominent.

Topics: Hardware, Emerging Tech, Virtualization, VMware


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • KVM and SPICE and everything nice

    "And Others"?

    You've succeeded in failing to mention open source initiatives once again?

    How could you forget Daniel?

    Red Hat, KVM and SPICE.

    2010 will continue to see IT cost cutting measures and Virtualization will fuel that effort particularly with Linux-based VM servers.

    Try to keep that in mind.

    Happy New Year Dan, Everyone.
    D T Schmitz
    • "and Others" means a post is not an exhaustive list

      Open source is a group of approaches to development and distribution. I've been following this for quite a number of years as you might know.

      Every post simply doesn't have to include an exhaustive list of competitors, technologies or products. If they all did, the readership would be rather small don't you think?

      Dan K
    • Open source

      Couldn't agree more !

      Which Linux-based platforms are you using ?

      We have setup a test Linux desktop app here in the office and streaming Open Office with a Linux desktop. It costs us around 15% to run compared to licensing MS Windows, Office etc.

      I really do hope open source keeps pushing forward
  • I personally can't see much difference in support.

    We use it at work, and spend as much time supporting the virtual PCs as we spend supporting "real" computers. Everything from connection issues (people delete or reconfigure their desktop settings for some reason, and some TCs don't have a provision to password-protect them) to software that behaves differently under the VMs causes us headaches.

    I can't see much difference, anyway. What you don't spend buying physical PCs you spend on client licensing and support, application licensing, server software, virtual machine software, etc. Like someone said, "You can't win, you can't break even, and you can't quit."
  • Maybe because there is nothing wrong?

    Maybe it's because the way it works now cost so little compared to the alternatives?

    Maybe the tradeoff is too risky?

    [i]"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"[/i]
    John Zern
  • direct access to hardware

    nuff said.
  • Too many hardware issues.

    Sorry but all of the virtualization I've tried always hits a snag with the hardware at some point. Especially video and video overlay.
  • All problems with Windoze

    and don't apply so much to Linux. I am able to create a single configuration for all (UNIXes) clients and servers. All applications are served from central servers - and cached locally. If a user is having issues, reboot first - then try to debug. If the debug is taking too long (>30 minutes) then reload (takes 30 minutes). So every issue can be fixed in less than 1 hour. All systems use the same load and - more importantly - the same support skillset (remember server and client are covered). This setup can also be taken to an Autonomic state (self-configuring). None of this is possible with Windoze.

    Check out this guy's blog - http://autonomics.blogspot.com
    Roger Ramjet
  • RE: What happened to virtual desktops?

    Daniel, that's a great article I must say. You have hit the nail on the head with the issues faced with desktop virtualization. I know because we offer it.

    It's more of a religious and psychological change than anything else. But from my POV, the technical benefits for desktop virtualization outweigh that of an in-house server infrastructure in about half of the companies we speak to. Therefore VDI is not for everyone, IMO it's a fair 50/50 split. For SME's we're seeing more people move towards VDI because they can access apps such as BES and receive lifetime upgrades of their apps (e.g. Office) which they would not normally have the time or money to implement.

    In fact we have been selling VDI solutions for over 5 years. I would like to say that I feel times are changing, we find more and more small businesses are happy to adopt VDI because of the cost saving. Our customers are increasing in size slightly over the months so I'll report back to you when we start talking to the 100+ desktop companies.

    <a href="http://www.vesk.com">VESK virtual desktop</a>
  • RE: What happened to virtual desktops?

    I personally would like to see more virtual computer platform development done. I have tried multiple virtual machines and I always run into some type of incompatibility. Personally I love the idea of a virtual machine but right now it isn't ready for prime time. Especially with hardware compatibility. Right now software really is still tied to the hardware running underneath.

    It really requires a paradigm shift in thinking at the hardware level. Instead of "hardware drivers", hardware vendors should be thinking "virtual hardware abstraction". Design of virtual machines that are standardized so that a virtual environment could possibly build a virtual machine that supports a lot of different hardware platforms. Basically you buy a computer with just a network connection and basic virtual machine. The virtual machine would go through the Internet locate all of the virtual hardware abstractions for your hardware and build a machine for you. The user would interact with what ever operating system they choose (or the organization chooses), the hardware abstraction layer would translate the operating system commands to the proper hardware specific instructions through the hardware vendors provided virtual hardware abstraction machine.

    This approach would allow computer hardware vendors to focus on providing the different hardware builds for different customer needs and not have to worry about supporting a large hardware driver base. Operating systems would interact only with a standardized virtual hardware layer. Each hardware vendor could design their products anyway they wanted, and just provide a virtual hardware machine capable of talking to the virtual hardware abstraction layer. Feature upgrades could be handled as upgrades to the hardware abstraction layer with what ever upgrades where necessary for the actual user.

    So for example: a Windows operating system would first look through a hardware abstraction layer into the actual hardware present, go out to a network source and bring in only the virtual machines needed to run the specific hardware. Upgrades to the hardware would just get rebuilt, the same as upgrades to the operating system.
  • What happened to virtual desktops?

    Well, the same that always happens to Desktop Linux:
    over-promising and under-delivering.

    And if you don't agree with them you are a #@$% or work
    for Microsoft.
  • RE: What happened to virtual desktops?

    I use virtual desktops daily. I would be lost without them... and anytime I have to use Windows or Macintosh... I get so frustrated with the lack of options and virtual desktops. Although some video cards come with virtual desktop options, they are not as polished or smooth as the Open Source virtual desktop options. And that is based on experience. ]:)
    Linux User 147560
    • Fool

      He is not talking about those virtual desktops,