Hosting virtual desktops: Tips for a successful outcome

Be prepared for a long road; the technology requires a significant buildup of servers and other infrastructure, among other things

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"Because it's delivered on a virtual machine, Microsoft charges more," Margevicius says. "This is a very sore point with Microsoft customers."

In response, Schuster points out that "the VDA license includes many more rights than a standard Windows license." And while Software Assurance requires that the user has purchased an OEM Windows license with the physical client device, VDA does not. Further, Schuster explains, the VDA license provides customers "with special use rights, and it gives them access to training and deployment services as well as the rights to the next Windows release."

This was a sticking point for Touchstone Behavioral Health, which does not have Software Assurance. Porter says he already pays for each Windows license twice: once for the instance that ships with every laptop, and once for his enterprise agreement or VDA license. He estimates total client licensing costs -- Windows and virtualization client software -- at about $300 per year per seat. He'd like to see concurrent licensing. "The vendors strong-arm me into buying more seats. They're nickel-and-diming me to death," he says.

But if you're doing only application virtualization, Microsoft's product in this category, App-V, can be fairly inexpensive because Microsoft makes it available through its Software Assurance license agreements. The typical annual cost in that scenario is generally in the range of $5 to $10 per seat, Margevicius says.

Licensing issues can also derail a client virtualization project if you outsource support of your desktops to a managed service provider, Accenture's Slattery warns. "Your vendor might not have envisioned this sort of solution, and that may delay you or cause you to reopen an agreement," he says.

Finally, a Windows 7 migration can change the math when it comes to incremental licensing costs, since you may have to buy new licenses anyway. "We have customers at Align who don't have Software Assurance who say, 'If I have to buy an operating system anyway to upgrade to Windows 7 and new desktops to support it, maybe that justifies looking into this,' " says Mayers.

And if you're also upgrading Microsoft Office, virtualization may make that upgrade process easier if you don't already have an efficient, automated software distribution mechanism.

Before embarking on a client virtualization project, IT can increase the chances for success by shrinking the application portfolio, says INX's Kaplan. "Do you really need five different versions of a spreadsheet program out there?" he asks. "Probably not."

Rationalize your applications

The Co-operative Group's Cawson says the grocery chain's IT staff used AppDNA's AppTitude tool to evaluate the suitability of each of the company's 1,400 applications for virtualization. The tool also ranked the difficulty of consolidating or eliminating programs that had issues running in a virtual desktop environment. Some of the more difficult ones were dropped, and multiple versions of productivity applications, such as Adobe Photoshop, were consolidated.

So far, Cawson has packaged 200 applications for virtualization and discarded 100 others. The former are streamed into XenDesktop virtual desktops using App-V. Ultimately, Cawson hopes to cut the total application count by nearly half, to between 750 and 800.

As for the applications you do keep, be sure to check that your software vendors will support the products in a virtual client setting, INX's Kaplan suggests. Finally, going forward, he says, "make it an organizational requirement" that all RFPs sent to application vendors mandate support for desktop virtualization.

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