Many virtual desktop deployments remain concentrated on midsize and enterprise businesses concerned with supporting secure remote access and bring your own device strategies.
Awareness nevertheless is maturing in smaller companies as well, in part because of VMware Inc.'s new approach to providing virtual desktop access -- the VMware Horizon Suite for delivering Windows, mobile, Web and Software-as-a Service applications, all from a single cloud-hosted workspace.
"The important part is that this is a VMware product, part of their core offering, which addresses the traditional VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] integration concerns upfront," said Bud Iafrate, a solutions architect specializing in desktop virtualization for Mainline Information Systems Inc., a technology solution provider headquartered in Tallahassee, Fla. "They are pushing the boundaries again, after they got to sit back and watch what the market was doing," he said. "That could prove to be an advantage."
Long-range view required
The level of interest in VDI is very strong, although many smaller companies ultimately are reluctant to make a long-term investment in an approach that impacts their entire IT strategy, said M.J. Shoer, founder and president of Jenaly Technology Group Inc., a solution provider in Portsmouth, N.H.
Two separate studies provide additional insight into mindsets about VDI. The first study, conducted by Spiceworks Inc., found that almost one-quarter of all businesses have deployed some sort of product from the virtual desktop market. Penetration among larger enterprises (those with more than 250 seats) was slightly higher than the average for companies with fewer than 20 employees.
Similar research by Techaisle Inc., released in August, produced data about desktop virtualization market size. It found that VDI sales to companies with 100 to 499 employees offered the biggest opportunity for technology providers -- with the number of midmarket virtual desktop seats expected to grow to 2.7 million by 2015.
Key drivers in the desktop virtualization market include cost reductions, data security and improved availability of applications, according to Techaisle. "Early adopters were predominantly chasing some sort of point solution scenario, but now their level of interest is more sophisticated, reaching deeper," Mainline's Iafrate said.
Businesses developing long-term strategies for smartphones, tablet computers and other personal mobile devices being used by their employees for work-related purposes are ideal candidates for desktop virtualization solutions, said Richard Vaughn, vice president and co-founder of i-Tech Support Inc., an Orlando, Fla., solution provider. Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) balk at the infrastructure investments required for servers and storage or for increasing network bandwidth, however, even when limited pilot tests are successful. "They get short-term vision," he said.
Virtual desktops in the cloud?
Even if many SMBs still are reluctant to consider full-scale, on-premises investments in desktop virtualization, there's a new wild card for technology solution providers: More SMBs are mulling cloud-hosted virtual desktop services. That is especially true of businesses with heavy remote-access requirements, businesses that insist on being flexible and businesses that see the benefit of being able to get to their data when the power is out at their primary office location, Jenaly's Shoer said. "Events like superstorm Sandy, in which some people in New Jersey and New York were without electricity for two weeks, will really start to show the value of the hosted desktop approach," he said.
Jenaly has a "Webtop" offering in that space, which the company developed in conjunction with a group of 17 managed service providers. The service, called TOGLcloud, builds on products from VMware, Citrix Systems Inc. and other best-in-class technology makers.
VMware's Horizon platform is boosting awareness of cloud-delivered virtual desktops among businesses of all sizes, Mainline's Iafrate said. "Suddenly, there is a new conversation that takes away the focus on desktop and hardware limitations, and shifts it onto the applications that a person needs to get their work done," he said. "That is significant."
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years of experience.