With as much attention as it's received recently, the term "virtualization" remains undefined in the minds of many. Despite the IT-focused terminology, the virtualization concept offers many practical benefits to IT managers looking for cost savings, increased efficiency and fewer administration headaches.
Desktop virtualization involves separating the user's desktop experience from their physical machine, with users instead accessing applications and personal desktops from a datacenter, either locally or from remote locations. Users' applications are thus deployed, managed, supported and executed from the datacenter's server farm, rather than from individual client machines. By removing the processing load from individual machines, a server-based computing (SBC) network solves many fundamental problems users face when running applications from individual machines.
As all data processing is conducted from the datacenter, managers of SBC networks need only focus on the management of their datacenter's server farm. With centralized management in place, hardware and software upgrades, application settings, technical support, storage and data backup are made significantly easier for administrators. Hardware also plays a more flexible role; since individual machines are simply transmitting datacenter output, efficient, low-cost hardware can replace heavy, inefficient "fat client" machines, streamlining system operation and offering significant savings for IT budgets.
With all core applications accessed through a centrally managed datacenter, administrators can easily deploy, manage and support applications much more easily from a single point, rather than tracking application use on many individual operating systems. Ease of management provides for secure and easy-to-track application and significant time savings, as IT managers need only check their datacenter rather than hundreds of desktops for settings changes.
By harnessing the processing power of their datacenter rather than individual machines, users can access their personal desktop and core applications from any type of client device, including outdated hardware or small, lean "thin client" devices. Device independence can allow administrators to continue using legacy hardware that would ordinarily have to be replaced, offering significant cost savings in the process, or switch to small energy-efficient devices that would be unable to function as stand-alone desktops, increasing network efficiency.
In allowing individual machines a direct network connection to the datacenter, users can tap these connections to access their applications from anywhere with an Internet connection. Productivity can therefore be improved by allowing users access to key applications regardless of their location or whether their physical desktop is operational.
With a central datacenter housing all core applications, data is secured in a safe, central location without it being "spread" to less-secure individual client computers. While data losses might ordinarily be difficult to trace in a typical stand-alone desktop environment, these can be easily traced to the datacenter in an SBC network.
Additionally, with application delivery originating from the datacenter, agent attacks can only be effective by penetrating the datacenter's defenses, giving malware a single point of attack. In contrast, a non-SBC network can be compromised through any of its individual client machines, forcing administrators to constantly check whether each machine is adequately secure and increasing the probability of a successful attack.
Upgrades for users' machines are made simple, as when upgrades or patches are implemented for datacenter applications, users can access updated applications immediately, avoiding the time-intensive process of installing patches and upgrades to each machine individually.
Additional capacity can be easily added in a datacenter-focused network, simply by enhancing the size and speed of the datacenter. In contrast, physically enhancing hundreds of individual machines can prove daunting for company IT staff.
By focusing server resources in the datacenter, server performance can be optimized using resource-based load-balancing technology, assigning application-processing jobs to hardware with most available resources. Failover settings can also be established to ensure that, even in the event of server failure, other servers can instantly step in to handle heavy processing loads.
Moreover, by using datacenter-installed applications rather than their own personal copy, firms typically need a much smaller number of licenses in an SBC network, many times reducing the network's total cost of ownership (TCO) to a fraction of the typical cost.
It's tempting to peg so many benefits as helping a firm's IT operations alone; yet, server-based computing benefits typically flow out to enhance company operations as a whole. Choosing server-based computing solutions begins rewarding companies and organizations immediately, making them efficient and competitive in an uncertain economic environment.
Ryan Pope is product manager, Americas at Addison, Texas-based 2X Software.
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Corrected January 4, 2011 at 1:50PM: yes