Oct 26 2010

The Road to Desktop Virtualization

Is this technology a good fit for your business environment?

By Jeff Groudan

Jeff Groudan

Desktop virtualization is a technology hot button, with industry pundits touting widespread adoption. While virtualization offers many proven benefits, small and midsize businesses that are planning to update their technology should determine whether a virtual environment is the right fit for their business. Adopting desktop virtualization can have big benefits for SMBs that have a mobile staff  and aggressive growth plans or need increased security measures. 

Enterprise companies have been quicker than SMBs to adopt virtualization, perhaps because of the general perception that it's a complex and costly technology. However, with the right implementation, SMBs can also reap the rewards of a virtual environment that addresses IT issues such as failure rates, management costs , data security and backup reliability.

When is it right for a business to consider desktop virtualization, or "thin computing"? Here are a few scenarios:

Innovative Ways to Cut Costs

It's no secret that virtualization can save businesses money. A recent IDC white paper sponsored by HP found that in comparison with traditional distributed PCs:

  • Energy-efficient thin clients use up to 80 percent less power;
  • User hardware and software costs in a client virtualization environment are reduced by more than half for each user, each year;
  • Client virtualization users require 67 percent less IT support and administrative labor; and
  • Over a five year period, these cost reductions can represent more than $16,000 of cumulative case flow benefits per end user.

At the simplest level, thin clients are cheaper to buy and maintain than PCs. They have become more powerful, cost effective and easier to use. With no hard drive, fan or other moving parts, thin clients have a much longer lifespan than a standard desktop or notebook computer (six to seven years versus three years for a desktop, according to IDC) and use significantly less power. These features also make thin clients more reliable than standard PCs, keeping users more productive, with less downtime for repair or servicing. The time savings alone for employees and reduced IT troubleshooting can lead to an impressive ROI: The IDC report says client virtualization users require one-third of the IT support and administration labor required in a traditional environment.

For SMBs, a centralized IT operation can greatly reduce the cost spent per end user. Being able to manage all computers from a central location means that all software application updates, virus scanning and patches can be executed once, directly on the server. IT managers can also remotely configure thin clients and the units don't require an individual setup, which leads to significant savings in time and deployment costs.

Handling Sensitive, Regulated or Mission-Critical Data

In situations where sensitive data is accessed often by employees, SMBs can use desktop virtualization to ensure the information remains protected. Based on current data, the Open Security Forum reports that 27 percent of all U.S. data breaches involve stolen PCs and notebooks. In heavily regulated industries, such as healthcare, insurance, retail and financial markets, data security can be extremely critical because of government rules and regulations such as HIPAA and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which enforce measures to preserve privacy and security, respectively. It is equally important to keep customer' personal information ( including Social Security, bank account and driver's license numbers) safe.

In a virtualized environment, all data resides on a server. Employees can access sensitive and critical information as necessary through a secure login; but all files are saved and located directly on the server, not on the hard drives of individual PCs or notebooks. As a result, data remains secure in the event a thin client device is lost, stolen, damaged or tampered with. Data loss prevention can and should be a large motivating factor behind virtualization adoption for SMBs. Thin clients are much more secure than a standard desktop or notebook, as no data actually resides on the device.

Keep the Future in Mind

When considering IT plans, it is important for decision-makers to evaluate growth forecasts and keep the expected future size of the business in mind. If a company expects to expand rapidly, virtualization becomes an ideal solution to quickly add new users as the business grows.

Thin clients system configurations and settings can be created once and saved on the server, allowing all new thin clients added to the network to be up and running in minutes in a "plug and play" fashion —regardless of location. Employee moves, additions and changes are seamless, whether new staff are located centrally, in the field or at other remote offices. By planning ahead and taking a look at how quickly they might grow over the next five years, SMBs that implement desktop virtualization will be in a prime position to scale up quickly and with relative ease.

Controlling the Mobile Environment

Companies comprise more mobile workers today than ever before. According to a forecast from IDC, the world's mobile worker population will pass the 1 billion mark this year, and grow to nearly 1.2 billion people by 2013 — more than a third of the world's workforce. The United States is expected to remain the most highly concentrated market in 2013, with 119.7 million mobile workers and 75.5 percent of the workforce.

SMBs with staff made up mostly of road warriors, mobile workers or contract employees are prime candidates for virtualization technology. Typically, these environments are massive IT headaches. From notebook losses to varying software update timelines and a wide array of computer models and platforms, managing these random IT environments is a constant challenge, made even more difficult by the different geographic locations of end users.

Through desktop virtualization, all IT support can be managed from a single, central location. Software, virus protection and other critical updates can be deployed once, rather than manually updating each desktop or notebook remotely over weeks or months. SMBs can save on software licensing fees while ensuring that all employees are working with the most up-to-date applications.

In addition, mobile workers are more likely to lose or damage their computers than their desk-based colleagues. Replacing a mobile thin client is easier, quicker and more cost efficient than replacing a typical notebook computer. Without removable media, data on mobile thin clients cannot be downloaded or stolen. This mitigates concerns about data loss, because all data resides at the data center.

SMB decision-makers are often tasked with managing every aspect of their company's infrastructure, and often technology is one of those many decisions. By taking a close look at the potential and benefits of desktop virtualization, SMBs can make wise IT choices about virtualization that will pay off in the future.

Jeff Groudan is the worldwide director of the Thin Computing Solutions Business for the Desktop Organization at HP.