Where are all the Virtual Linux Desktops?

There’s been a lot of chatter about the wonderful new world of virtual Linux desktops, yet it hardly exists. Why?


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Posted October 20, 2008

Jeff Vance

Jeff Vance

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When Red Hat acquired Qumranet, the company pointed to two key pieces of technology that came along with the acquisition: Qumranet’s hypervisor, KVM, and its desktop virtualization technology, SolidICE.

With KVM being an open-source hypervisor (it’s included in the Linux kernel), the real opportunity for revenue is SolidICE. We’ve been hearing about the promise of virtual desktops housed in data centers for quite some time now, but how real is the market?

“There’s a lot of noise around desktop virtualization, but no one has really bought into it in a big way yet,” said Richard Jones, vice president and service director of data center strategies for the Burton Group, a market research firm.

Of course, considering the economy, any new technology that requires spending some money – even if you’ll end up saving in the long run – is having a tough go of it. Still, analysts are bullish on desktop virtualization.

“I don’t think desktop virtualization will fade,” said John Madden, research director of the market-analysis firm Ovum. “It’s been slow to take off, but the cost benefits are compelling, and in this economic climate cost efficiency is the focus.”

The benefits of virtual desktops are pretty straightforward. IT gains control and efficiency, and even maintains better security, since patches and software updates are centralized – meaning IT can be confident that they’ve been done.

Meanwhile, device costs can be trimmed way back, with virtual desktops being pushed out to repurposed, legacy PCs or inexpensive thin clients.

Why, then, are there few real-world examples of virtualized desktop infrastructures?

According to the research firm Ovum, part of the problem is that there is confusion about what exactly desktop virtualization means.

Hosted desktops (or thin-client computing) have been around for years, and the limitations of this model are often mistakenly attributed to desktop virtualization. With hosted desktops, individual applications are housed on a central server and pushed out to a thin client, a client that has few onboard computing capabilities.

With only applications housed centrally, not the full desktop environment, the real value is control and security.

Full desktop virtualization, on the other hand, houses the entire desktop environment on a server and delivers an experience robust enough so that end users won’t even know they’re working in a virtualized environment. Multiple virtual desktops are able to run on the same physical server, yet each user has an experience consistent with full-blown PC computing, including their own individual settings.

Vendors need to do a better job of making these distinctions, of pitching real virtualization versus hosted applications.

Hosted desktops have their place – usually when organizations want to limit terminals to only certain activities – but too many organizations mistakenly believe that hosted desktops are as far as desktop virtualization goes.

There Are Still Plenty of Servers Left to Virtualize

“The truth is that we’re not that far along with server virtualization,” said Scott Crenshaw, Red Hat’s VP of the Platform Business Unit. “I’d estimate that we still have 90% of the world’s servers left to virtualize.”

Crenshaw argues that most of today’s x86 server virtualization has been with relatively simple workloads, such as Web and print servers.

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Tags: Linux, server, virtualization, Red Hat, workloads

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