In past blogs, I’ve discussed some of the big-picture benefits for server virtualization. This week, I wanted to give some thought to the concept of desktop virtualization. Of the two technologies, the desktop variety has been much slower to take off in the marketplace, and frankly, there are some good reasons for that.
In both cases, the fundamental underlying technology operates on the same basic principle: By uncoupling the operating system and application software layers from the binary code layer that actually operates the chip-level hardware, you can accomplish some cool things. Perhaps the number one benefit is being able to create the illusion of multiple independent physical machines (AKA “virtual” machines) all living side by side on a single hardware platform. These virtual machines can lead diverse and independent lives, being dedicated to various tasks and even running on different operating systems.
The benefits at the server level are almost self evident. For one thing, running multiple virtual machines on a single box can be more efficient, because you can eliminate underutilized machines. As a result, you can reduce hardware costs, eliminate redundancy, and slash you electric bill. Support and maintenance costs can also be reduced, as you consolidate your data center.
So what’s the value proposition for doing this at the desktop level? For me, at least, the picture is a little murkier. If you assume one user per desktop, which is the norm in most computing environments today, then the economies mentioned above for servers no longer apply. You can virtualize any number of desktop machines one a single machine, and give users access to those machines over the network, but you still have to put some kind of physical device on each user’s desk. These devices can be slimmed down, stripped of many of the features commonly included in a PC, but with hardware costs so low these days, you’d really have to sharpen your pencil to uncover significant and compelling savings in the hardware department.
To read more on virtualization, head on over to IBM’s Server Virtualization website.