As the virtualization technology advances, businesses of all sizes are seeing the cost and time advantages of employing virtual desktops. This can be a way to reduce license fees, maintenance dollars and tech support time. An evolving technology, virtual desktops are already paying for themselves in many businesses.
Weighing the Infrastructure Question
To support desktop virtualization, you will need a server architecture that can run virtual machines and the VM software to manage them. Depending on the kinds of application a business runs, you will also need application servers to process the program requests. If you are a small business and your hardware architecture does not currently support virtualization, then your initial costs could be considerable. A few things to consider when looking at adopting a new architecture include :
How many desktop units do you want to virtualize ?
What type of software is run from these desktops ?
What are the hours of operation ?
If you have a small number of desktop units running two or three standard office programs between 9am and 5pm, then you will probably spend more money and time virtualizing your shop. However, if there are a lot of desktops running many different programs in a 24/7 environment, then this could be a time and money-savings approach.
The Hardware Impact
The virtual desktop still has a physical presence. The unit can be very scaled down since the processing load and storage is greatly reduced. The machine needs enough memory to hold the OS kernel and do some processing, mainly graphics display related. There is still some storage required for paging and swapping and such things as browser cache. Once the unit is attached to a virtual machine and OS, most of the work is in the communication back and forth and the graphics display.
This can help to standardize desktops across the company. Some environments require higher-end units in some departments with the lower-end device in others. The virtual desktop may let you put the same desktop configuration on everybody’s desk. This can also be a great time and money saver. You won’t need additional technical support efforts to manage different desktop configurations.
The Software Impact
Most of the applications will run on the application servers and not on the desktop. There could be some special, custom built programs that need to be run on one or two designated machines. If the architecture is a cloud design, then even the application server needs are reduced, replace by browser-based programs.
Software is where a big time and cost savings can be seen by a business. Instead of purchasing a single-use license for each desktop, a multi-user option is purchased to accommodate the maximum number of people that could be running the program concurrently. Program updates need only be done on the server copy, instead of being pushed out to multiple desktop units. This reduces the time and frustration on the end users to make sure their machines are updated correctly.
New software can be loaded onto servers and users given immediate access to it. Software patches are applied to the server copy of the application. And programs can be easily restricted to certain users or devices. There are more opportunities to perform software maintenance without impacting the end users or even getting them engaged in the effort.
The Support Impact
There is an initial learning curve for the technical support team when moving to a virtual environment. From then on there is less support time required to respond to user desktop matters. The desktop gets reduced to a device that runs application on a server. The tech support will be more focused on the servers.
Typical support duties in this environment will now include :
Monitoring the load on VMs and configuring for optimum load balancing
Setting up the security so the right people have access to the applications they need in their role
Monitoring the storage access and adjusting for the I/O demand
The tech team can be more effective as their focus moves from the individual desktop to the centralized servers.
For the business that has the IT resources to absorb the start-up efforts, virtualizing the desktop could result in a savings in both time and money.
About the Author : Matt Smith is a Dell employee who writes to help raise awareness on the topic of Virtualization and other network management subjects.
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