Making your desktop virtual can benefit business

Making your desktop virtual with a virtual desktop infrastructure implementation can provide significant TCO savings, and deliver a more secure and flexible service, according to Cam Merrett, director of consultancy Pulsar.

Virtualisation started out with server consolidation. Over the past three years, this technology has been extended to making desktops virtual, and allowing any organisation to reduce the cost of traditional PCs by centralising the desktop.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has become one of the most popular cost-saving technologies for many small businesses as they prepare to weather out the current credit crunch. VDI quickly delivers cost savings and running costs.

With VDI, it is possible to create virtual machines running Windows XP and desktop applications used in small companies, such as Office, Outlook and other desktop programs. Users then connect to a virtual machine from either a thin client or existing PC that acts like a terminal.

Centralising the desktop has been around for many years, with Microsoft Terminal Servicesand technologies from vendors like Citrix. However, VDI is the first solution that delivers an entire Windows XP machine to the user. This eliminates application compatibility problems and user acceptance.

The No. 1 comment from users that have been switched over to VDI is that their machines run faster. This is because the virtual machine is running on server-class hardware, with faster storage.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has become one of the most popular cost-saving technologies for many small businesses as they prepare to weather out the current credit crunch.

Cam Merrett, director, Pulsar Ltd,

The main reason VDI has soared in popularity is the fast return on investment. It is easy for any organisation to work out the total cost of PCs on desks and the cost of a VDI implementation. Subtract the number, and you've calculated the percentage savings.

At the forefront of VDI is VMware. VMware provides a technology where a large physical server can be divided up into virtual machines. Each virtual machine acts as a normal machine when a user is connected to it via their virtual desktop.

What are the figures for making your desktop virtual?
In a recent total cost of ownership project (TCO), the cost of deploying PCs was calculated along with the cost of a new VDI implementation.Taking into account all costs of making your desktop virtual -- including purchase price, time to install and set up, power consumption, and maintaining the PC with new applications -- the TCO over four years for each PC was £1,566.

To provide a centralised VDI environment for the same project, the total cost per user over four years was £861. This figure assumed that exactly the same number of virtual machines are deployed as there were PCs. Another key benefit of VDI is that a smaller number of virtual machines are required than there are users.

Knowing that some people are on holidays, off sick, away on business or not in need of a PC during the day, it is possible to deliver a concurrent usage model. This can reduce the cost of software and hardware by another 10 to 30%. In a recent project for 400 users, the total reduction using concurrent virtual machines was 26%, bringing the total cost per user down to £623 over four years.

What makes up a VDI solution?

• Physical servers capable of running VMware

• VMware to allow the creation and running of virtual machines

• Connection broker to allow users to connect to their virtual machine

• Connection device on the user's desk (either an existing PC or thin client)

Unlike many solutions, VDI is relatively easy to integrate into existing environments. Once user acceptance testing and costs are calculated, the transition for users when they stop using their PCs and start connecting to their virtual PCs is very straightforward.

It is also possible to set up remote connectivity to a VDI implementation, which allows more flexibility for users since they can log on to their virtual PCs from other locations, such as their home computer or hot desks in other remote offices.This also provides a no-cost business continuity service. If staff cannot come into the office due to unforeseen circumstances, they can work from home or another office if their desktops are virtual.

VDI can reduce the number of laptops needed. Laptops are the most expensive device for users, and a recent Pulsar survey showed that just over 67% of laptop users only use them in the office, at home or at another office. These users no longer need laptops because they can access their desktops that are virtual from these locations. As a rule of thumb, if users need to work offline, such as on a train or plane, they will still need laptops.

Cam Merrett is a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk and the director of Pulsar Ltd, which is a U.K.-based heterogeneous VDI consultancy. Vendor partners include VMware, Citrix, IBM, Sun and Quest.

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