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Technology Trends: Virtual Desktops, Part 1
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Technology Trends: Virtual Desktops, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Virtual Desktops, Part 1

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Virtual Desktops, Part 1

It wasn't very long ago that computers took up so much space that they had to be housed in separate rooms, sometimes in separate buildings, and users accessed the applications and files by logging in to terminals on their desks. As the personal computer took over, it became possible to house enormous computing power on each person's desk, something that made a lot of work a lot easier. Then, as more and more services became web-based, a trend that continues today with cloud-based software services such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Docs, and Adobe Creative Cloud, the on-desk computing requirements were reduced in many cases to a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and Internet connection. In this way, the incredible speed with which technology grows has brought us almost back to where we began, with the ability to take advantage of huge computing power and storage, today in "the cloud" rather than in the basement of our office building, to give users virtual desktop computers in their offices and on the go.

The concept of managed, virtual desktops covers a lot of varied ground, and we will address the many different flavors in part two of this series, but the basic concept is the same: rather than every person in your company working on a standalone computer, each with its own (though possibly identical) applications and configurations, the computer on a desk acts more like a terminal, an access point through which connections to applications and files are made. In the same way that web-based email services can be accessed, with all of a user's specific preferences and settings, from any Internet-connected computer with a web browser, a user's working desktop can be accessed, with all its shortcuts, icons, file storage structure, and preferences (to an extent determined by your system administrator), from almost any computer, tablet, or other device.

Think of a desktop computer more as a service than as a machine, and you begin to grasp the concept. Before the days of web-accessible email, a computer served largely as an email machine. Now, with web access, email is a portable service, not a piece of a specific computer on a specific desk. Virtual desktops are portable services, not the interfaces of specific machines in specific cubicles.

A virtual desktop service might be an option for any organization whose employees work from different machines at different times, such as in a retail environment with multiple registers, or an organization with different branch locations. Groups that allow employees to work from home or while traveling would also find some benefits to such a setup. This is especially true if your users are geographically far-flung and your tech department is tiny, since trouble-shooting can be done from any admin-enabled machine.

From the administrator's perspective, the most significant advantages to a virtual desktop service are simplified management and, in some cases, reduced costs. Management can usually be handled from one administrator's machine, through the service-provider's admin interface, including the installation of applications and trouble-shooting permissions or other user-specific problems. Additionally, security is simpler to manage, since the likelihood of an individual machine's getting infected by a careless user is decreased, and the chance of catastrophic file loss through hard-drive failure is reduced by the service's capacity for redundancy and frequent backup.

Further reduced costs might be found in the way you're paying for software and operating system licenses. Many services offer application bundles, so the per-user, per application price may be lower with a virtual desktop service. You may also save money on hardware, since the operating system, file storage, and processing power come from the service. You could conceivably get by with so-called bare-bones computers running free operating systems with minimal on-board memory and drive capacity.

One very nice thing about services like this is the bundled software they often provide, which, in the case of many software services out there, may mean that you are always using the latest versions of everything, without paying for upgrades.

Do consider the disadvantages of a virtual desktop service, which can include reduced autonomy for your users. While strictly regulated use seems on the surface a good thing, with its reduction in possible user error, it also stymies the technological development of your rank and file. In every group of employees are a few people pushing the limits of the system, and yes, these users can wreak a lot of havoc, but as frontline users actually putting the system through its paces, they can also find creative solutions, trouble-shoot problems on the fly for coworkers, and be the first to spot potential pitfalls ahead of time. Giving these users less access to the hearts and souls of the technology can make it harder for new, exciting ideas to emerge, and you may have more difficulty identifying these leading users for future opportunities.

Other disadvantages include possibly paying for bundled apps you don't need, but chances are fair that you're already doing that, and the effect geographical distance might have on the user experience. One service provider advises that distances greater than two thousand miles from either US coast, for example, can mean a noticeable decrease in user experience, something that could be a real problem for your employees in Hawaii.

Cost savings are not a given, so take a hard look at your software, hardware, maintenance, management, and training expenses, and weigh them against the benefits gained from a virtual desktop service. You may find yourself paying more per year on the same software you're already using, but with your IT help people making potentially fewer desk-calls, and with operating system licenses included in your monthly user fees, you might come out far ahead, and with all the non-monetary benefits too.

There are a few different services offering virtual desktop experiences, each slightly different in configuration and management than the rest, and we'll break those down in the continuation of this series.


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Technology Trends: Virtual Desktops, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

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