IBM To Offer Virtual Desktops

A new subscription service, being released by IBM, will make desktop virtualization more available to large companies.  Virtual desktop technology has been slow to catch on, but many are saying it has more potential than it initially seemed.

The technology enables companies to use virtual machines on a central server to host the applications and desktop operating systems of their employees.  The apps and desktops can then be accessed from a desktop or thin client PC, using a web browser.

Supporters of the virtualization effort say that the centralization of desktop software management will lower the companies’ IT costs  It will also allow the employees to be more mobile, since they will be able to get to and use corporate applications from any computer.  The complexity of implementation, however, may slow the rise of the technology, especially since many IT departments still lack the skills and training to do it effectively.  In several cases, companies are unwilling to front the initial investment in the new hardware and software to install the system.

To answer those challenges, in October IBM will present the SmartBusiness Desktop Cloud.  The service, aimed at midsized and large companies, will begin appearing in North America and Europe in October.  Using the service, companies will be able to generate employee desktop images and import them to a data center.  IBM will operate two data centers, one in North Carolina and one in Germany, and a monthly fee will ensure IBM’s hosting and managing the desktop images.

IBM’s Smart Business Desktop Cloud product manager, Rick Morgan, said they are “trying to offer an infrastructure to customers that allows them to move forward a little more quickly with desktop virtualization.”

Since the company does not have a substantial desktop virtualization software package, it built an optimal hybrid product using elements of the HDX connection broker from Citrix Systems, VMware’s ESXi hypervisor, and software for desktop infrastructure provided by Desktone.  The system was tested with Wyse Technologies based thin clients, and IBM ensures that the system will work with any kind of client computer.

In the past, IBM has custom built hosted systems for their clients, on a case by case basis.  This new system will be IBM’s first venture into a subscription based, pre-built desktop virtualization package.

Though IBM has revealed the monthly subscription structure of the service, the actual pricing is still a secret until the service hits the public.  The pricing will be scaled based on the memory and processing-power needs of the clients, and they may also need to purchase additional services in assessment and planning, to support the implementation process.

The IBM label on the service may be a significant draw for companies to take on desktop virtualization.  Taneja Group industry analyst Jeff Boles asserted that “Large enterprises are only going to be comfortable going into this if there’s someone with IBM’s scale behind it, so I think that makes this offer quite compelling.”

Boles also believes the companies that will be most attracted to the service are those, such as call centers, that already have some standardization of their desktop images; as well as companies that have some hosting in place for desktop management.  In those cases, he said, “it could be quite profitable for IBM and more efficient and economical for the customer.”

Customers will be able to use the directory and authentication systems they already have in place in their data centers, though IBM will host the desktop images as well as managing the virtualized servers and their storage systems.  “If the customer has mature authentication and data management systems,” Boles said, “they can continue to use those without having to outsource all of that.”

In order to use the SmartBusiness Desktop Cloud, customers will need to sign up for a minimum of fifty desktops.  If a company would rather not host their desktops at one of IBM’s two data centers, IBM has said they will provide all the necessary hardware and support at the customer’s location and provide local management.

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