What Gartner Didn't Say About Client Virtualization

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Client Virtualization

To begin with, new hardware must be placed in the data center to run the virtualized machines. So the cost of creating the operating environment is a necessary investment to put client virtualization in place.

Second, individual virtualized machines must be created and made available on the new data center-located machines. In other words, there must a migration of the existing physical machines into new virtual machines.

Third, the organization's network capability with regard to capacity and latency must be tested and, if necessary, upgraded to support the flow of data between the client devices and the data center. A network that was previously very capable of carrying the data traffic between thick clients and server-based applications may not be robust enough to carry the increased traffic characteristic of client virtualization.

Fourth, the established processes the organization uses to manage client machines will need to be modified. Simply put, a lot of the work formerly necessary to keep client machines up and running goes away with client virtualization. No more worrying about whether the antivirus software is up to date. No more having to make "truck rolls" (i.e., in-person visits) to figure out what's wrong with the machine. The client environment is created on-the-fly back in the data center and served up fresh each time the user logs in. Some (but not, crucially, all) of this work is displaced back to the data center, which needs to have people manage administration of user environments, updating the images from which new virtual machines are created, and so on.

So, it's easy to see that there is a lot of churn in moving to client virtualization -which is why Gartner's statement should have been "as much as 40% of companies will undertake client virtualization by 2010." To my mind, the fact that four out of ten companies will take on the work I outlined above in order to implement client virtualization indicates that it must offer significant-nay, remarkable-payoff to make that 40% ready to undergo that burden.

So what is that payoff? Why is client virtualization a big deal?

Number one, depending on how it's implemented, client virtualization can operate on lower spec hardware at the end user location, which offers hardware savings for new machines as well as the opportunity to stretch out the useful lives of already-existing client machines. So right off the bat, there's some capital expenditure avoidance possible with client virtualization. While the savings on each machine may not be huge, when applied over hundreds or thousands of end users, the money can add up fast. Naturally, some of those savings must be applied to the additional hardware necessary in the data center, but net-net client virtualization should offer savings in this arena.

Number two, remember what I said about some-but not all-of the cost savings from less client-side work being transferred to additional work in the data center? It's true that some of the savings are spent, but the rest of the avoided IT operations costs aren't spent. It's hard to estimate what that percentage will be, but considering the amount of money spent on help desks, personal visits on-site to deal with software problems, and so on, it could come to a pretty penny, indeed.

Finally, and perhaps most important, there is the money saved through end users who are no longer stuck sitting doing nothing when their PC gets hosed. Every time someone has to stop working because their machine breaks represents lost productivity. This lost labor cost far outweighs the cost of hardware and software devoted to employees, so using client virtualization to keep client machines up and running can provide enormous financial returns.

Given the financial benefits client virtualization offers, why doesn't everyone take advantage of it at once? As I mentioned earlier, server consolidation has taken off because it offers a sustaining innovation: it can be applied with very little change in behavior or processes. By contrast, realizing the benefits of client virtualization requires significant change in those areas-and behavior and process change is always more difficult than technology change. Furthermore, the financial benefits of client virtualization don't really kick in when only a portion of the infrastructure is migrated-because you continue carrying the costs of the help desk, being able to do on-site work, etc.-so in fact, a partial client virtualization implementation actually adds to your costs. It's only when the majority of the client machines are migrated that the cost savings start to accrue.

So I'm actually impressed with Gartner's prediction that 40 percent of organizations will make the move to client virtualization by 2010. For that percentage of organizations to do so demonstrates the magnitude of the financial rewards client virtualization provides, given the organizational challenge presented by the necessary behavior and process changes. Gartner actually may be optimistic in their forecast, but only in the timescale, not in the ultimate adoption.

This story, "What Gartner Didn't Say About Client Virtualization" was originally published by CIO.

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