I was in San Diego last week at the Catalyst Conference 2009 hosted by the Burton Group. Desktop virtualization was one of the main tracks and for some of the Burton Group analysts, desktop virtulization or VDI or virtual deskops were the most frequently discussed topic with their customers.

Personally, I met with over 2 dozen enterprise customers, including some that have already implemented the technology. I also co-presented with Burton Group on the topic of future of desktop virtualization. It was very encouraging to see that customers are increasingly becoming aware of desktop virtualization and are considering desktop virtualization to free themselves up from the PC refresh cycle. I think that we are nearly at the tipping point – where the success from early adopters will spread to the majority of the IT environments.

Here are my top 3 findings:

Virtualizing a desktop is not the same as virtualizing a server

There was a consensus here among all customers who have already implemented virtual desktops. IT often starts with virtualizing desktops with the assumption that it is the same as virtualizing a server. However, it turns out that there are some stark differences. We have talked about this before but Some interesting quotes:

  • “2000 virtual servers is a lot of virtual servers but 2000 virtual desktops common for an enterprise”
  • “Server VMs – goal is to keep them up, Desktop VMs – goal is to keep them up to date”
  • “Server VMs – multiple workloads to virtualize without any personalization, Desktop VMs – Single workload to virtualize but with user personalization”
  • “Server VMs – all about up-time (easy to measure – 99999999….), Desktop VMs – its all about user experience (user satisfaction, performance, easy to access)
  • “Server VMs – if virtual center is down – no big deal, Desktop VMs – virtual center is down means users are unable to connect!”
Existing customers of first generation VDI are rapidly upgrading and expanding with new virtual desktop solutions

I spoke with customers that started with virtual desktops about 18 months ago and did so with 1:1 user mapping to VMs. It was interesting to learn about how customers were able to make successful business cases in virtual desktops even with those first generation or primitive architectures that involved managing multiple instances of desktops in virtual machines, high storage costs and not the best user experience. Business cases were based on simplifying distributed dekstop management while giving users the flexibility to access their desktop from anywhere.

In the past 12 months, several of the limitations of the first generation virtual deskops have been eliminated. All these early adopters are now rapidly upgrading to these new generation of virtual desktops where they can manage a pool of virtual desktops using a single OS image, and single of instance of apps. Most were planning to start with virtual applications gradually starting from the ones that are the hardest and most complex to manage and update. This will give them the ability to simplify virtual desktop management and cut down the cost of storage infrastructure.

Most of these customers said that they are rapidly expanding their virtual desktop solutions as it will help them migrate to Windows 7 much more easily.

Picking the best desktop for every user helps virtual desktop solutions

During my presentation on the future of desktop virtualization, there were two topics that resulted in many good questions and positive feedback.

  1. Best virtual desktop solution for different user types – I have written about this before. I had several conversations with enterprises looking at hosted virtual desktops or VDI regarding how to get the best fit desktop using other technologies including blade PCs, terminal server based or even local virtual desktops. In almost all cases, mapping different options to different user types led to eliminating several barriers to hosted virtual desktop or VDI model, including TCO, user mobility & power user scenarios.
  2. Local virtual desktops – Huge interest in Citrix XenClient. Security, manageablity and BYOC became the three top discussion topics with the customers. In fact, Citrix CIO Office presented Citrix’s BYOC implementation at the event and it was one of the most popular sessions.

Overall, it was a good event, well attended, with lots of good, in depth discussions. It is great to see the positive momentum of customers moving from physical PCs to virtual desktops.

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