The concept of server virtualization has caught on at many small businesses – consolidating many poorly utilized servers onto a handful of physical boxes and creating a large number of virtual servers. Now the same idea is catching fire with regard to desktop computers.
The appeal is obvious. Why put up with all the hassle of maintaining PCs under every desk? They require constant attention in terms of software patches, new anti-virus signatures, backups and more. The promise of desktop virtualization is that it centralizes those tasks while potentially improving performance.
On the downside, though, it demands a level of IT sophistication that isn't present in many small businesses. There is also a sizable upfront cost. And if you do it wrong, performance can suffer badly.
But for some small businesses, particularly those considering a change out of their entire stock of aging PCs, desktop virtualization could turn out to be a smart long-term investment.
Here are some of the key questions that small business owners should consider.
Desktop Virtualization: Is it Right for Your Business?
1. Is Desktop Virtualization Cheaper?
Some vendors may say yes. But the shorter and safer answer is no.
"Saving money should not be one of the criteria for considering desktop virtualization for the chief reason that the technology really doesn't save money," said Andy Melmed, vice president of enterprise architecture at Sanbolic. "Desktop virtualization does not come for free, so if the price tag ends up outweighing its inherent benefits, it would probably not be worth pursuing."
2. Does (Business) Size Matter?
VMware believes that desktop virtualization can work for even small operations.
"The time and resource savings apply to any size business, and we have customers with as few as ten desktops who have turned to VMware to virtualize their desktops," said Betty Junod, VMware's director of desktop product marketing, end-user computing.
However, it really makes no sense for small companies with just a few desktops, and companies that have a simplistic IT set up. Further, companies that lack savvy IT personnel – either employees or contractors – should probably avoid it.
3. What are the Advantages of Desktop Virtualization?
Desktop virtualization can slash the time you spend managing PCs by centrally delivering desktops from the main server or server room. The people tasked with that function can perform administrative and support operations on all desktop resources in much less time. For instance, you can handle tasks such as providing a desktop for new users, security patching, and updating operating systems or applications from one screen without leaving your desk.
"The basic benefits from having the operating system, applications, and data reside in a centrally-managed IT facility include lower IT costs (such as upgrading operating systems once at a central site rather than at each individual desktop) and greater security," said David Hill, an analyst with the Mesabi Group.
4. Can Desktop Virtualization Provide Mobile Access?
Desktop virtualization frees employees to work from pretty much anywhere by separating them (and their files/applications/settings) from a specific piece of hardware. Some virtualization platforms provide simplified terminals (no bulky desktop PC under the table) where users log on to whatever device is available.
Virtualizing the desktop lets employees do their jobs wherever they are instead of having to bring everything back to a specific desk. You can extend this concept to where the "desktop" is available on a tablet or mobile phone when an employee travels.
"Virtual desktops can help small businesses improve security and employee productivity by extending the desktop and applications to Android or iOS mobile devices," said Junod. "Users gain the mobility on their device-of-choice, and IT maintains the control and security they need."
5. Should Server Virtualization Come First?
There used to be a definite progression whereby businesses that adopted server virtualization then addressed desktop virtualization. Some experts maintain that this is no longer necessary.
"Server virtualization is not necessarily a prerequisite to desktop virtualization," said Melmed. "If a company decides to deploy both technologies, one could be deployed before, during or after the other (depending upon which method is used)."