But VARs that have established practices around these solutions caution against using immediate cost savings as a primary selling point, since the return on investment (ROI) can take several years.
"One of the first things I ask a customer is their goal," said Mark Henson, national practice manager for virtualization with ePlus Technology, part of Herndon, Va.-based solution provider ePlus Inc.
"If they want to slash costs, I have to set their expectations," he said. "With server virtualization, there is an immediate [capital expenditure-related] ROI. With desktop virtualization, there is not an immediate ROI. There is an ROI, [but] it just tends to be in [operating expenditures] and over a period of time."
Client-side virtualization offers longer-term ROI
A brief primer: Right now, the client virtualization landscape includes both application virtualization and desktop virtualization. They serve different purposes but both are concerned with isolating software from the hardware it's running on.
Application virtualization, often used with legacy or in-house custom applications, is concerned with delivering a particular application to task-based workers via a desktop, notebook or thin client device. Desktop virtualization, meanwhile, isolates an entire desktop, including individual user data. It has specific advantages among mobile workers and allows employees to share equipment more readily. Both can be delivered via a hosted model or handled locally.
While you would be hard-pressed to find an enterprise account that doesn't use some form of application virtualization, the desktop flavor has only more recently gained in popularity, according to VARs and analysts.
"The core skill you need to represent this is the ability to understand infrastructure and the value of this at the desktop level," says Harpreet Walia, founder and CTO of WaveStrong Inc., a VAR from Dublin, Calif., that represents multiple desktop virtualization vendors. Some of the better known players in this segment include VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and new players such as MokaFive.
Walia said he often deploys virtual desktops on an encrypted DVD or stick that employees can carry. For many of his accounts, security is the motivating factor.. Such was the case when his team implemented the MokaFive Virtual Desktop Solution at a large healthcare organization concerned about potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Nearly 30% of employees were accessing patient data from "untrusted" systems. Walia said the virtual desktop solution helped secure this information while providing staff with more flexibility about where they could work.
Market research firm Gartner Inc. predicts that the market for hosted virtual desktops will reach 49 million units by 2013, up from an estimated 500,000 units this year. Revenue from these solutions could grow to $65.7 billion by that time, which represents about 40% of the worldwide professional PC market.
Tad Bodeman, director of thin client solutions for Hewlett-Packard Co., said HP's sales funnel and volumes for client virtualization products are growing on a monthly basis. Both application virtualization and desktop virtualization are increasingly being used by VARs to differentiate the value of their services from traditional hardware resellers, Bodeman said.
EPlus's Henson said client virtualization discussions are becoming a regular part of desktop and notebook refreshplanning. Almost every deployment will require a pilot or proof-of-concept, he said, because applications need to be tested for compatibility, security and performance.
Forrester Research Inc.'s data tracking client inquiries found that curiosity about hosted desktop virtualization accounts for 59% of questions surrounding client virtualization, while application virtualization accounts for about 12%. "Users are hoping to achieve this magical next-generation desktop," said Natalie Lambert, analyst with Forrester. "But they don't know how to get there."
According to a separate 2008 survey of 565 PC decision makers, Forrester reports that the top three drivers of client virtualization of any sort are costs (52%), security (49%) and manageability, including patching (46%).
According to a Forrester case study, Cox Communications Inc. uses hosted Citrix application virtualization to help support a telework program for its customer care centers, superseding the need for a VPN. Forrester reports that the primary benefits include better workload distribution, savings on office space, a decrease in agent turnover and a better disaster recovery plan. The company is able to host between 50 and 100 users per XenApp server.
Lambert believes that multiple forms of hosted and local client virtualization will be present in most organizations, and that the impact of this change will be felt more deeply by 2012. "By that time, this technology will be mainstream," she said.