Client-side virtualisation part III: HAL 9000, hosted virtual desktops, and the Death Star


Systems and security management is difficult, ineffective, costly and becoming ever more so in increasingly distributed, heterogeneous, complex, and mobile computing environments…

* 98% of all external attacks take advantage of poorly administered, misconfigured, and unmanaged systems (Source: Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report 2009)

* A locked down and well-managed PC can cost 42% less than an unmanaged one (Source: Gartner – The Total Cost of Ownership: 2008 Update)

* The direct costs incurred in a “somewhat managed” PC are only slightly lower than the direct costs of an unmanaged PC, because of expenses to maintain underutilized or dysfunctional management systems (Source: Gartner – The Total Cost of Ownership: 2008 Update)

The benefits provided by server virtualisation are being realized as server consolidation has enabled cost reduction and efficiencies in data center/server management. This is of course leading many to ask the question “why can we not virtualize our desktops as well?”

Server virtualisation and desktop virtualisation are radically different. As mentioned in a previous post, consolidation is the major benefit or “killer app” for server/data center virtualisation. Standardization is the major benefit or “killer app” for client-side virtualisation.

IT has been attempting to implement a standard or common operating environment since the introduction of the PC, unfortunately “standardization” comes at a cost and in many use cases is ineffective, either because of the impact on the user population or the underlying management infrastructure doesn’t support modern distributed IT architectures.

There is no question that the user population is becoming more distributed and more technically savvy. Additionally the demands of the business to take advantage of new computing models, the increasingly hostile threat environment and regulatory pressures are taxing already overworked and under resourced IT department so it is natural for organizations to look for alternatives.

Unfortunately unlike server virtualisation, desktop virtualisation, in whatever form it takes, has a long way to go to meet the demands of the majority of enterprises.

Hosted Virtual Desktops (on-premise)

Virtual desktop images are stored in a data center and provided to a client via the network/internet. The virtual machine will include the entire desktop “stack” from operating system to applications to user preferences. Management is provided centrally through the virtual desktop infrastructure.

The promise is that the VDI will replace the need for the myriad systems and security management technologies that are currently deployed. No more demands for traditional desktop management tools like OS provisioning, patch management, anti-virus, personal firewalls, encryption, software distribution, and on and on and on…it is a pleasant fantasy to dream of a return to the thin-client model, but it isn’t realistic in most cases.

First there is the inherent cost and complexity in simply implementing the virtual desktop infrastructure. In many cases the back end requirements for storage, networking, connection brokers, and management systems can be 4-10x as expensive as traditional solutions

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