Survey shows fear may be keeping users from virtual desktops

Lack of experience causes some to overestimate obstacles

End-user organizations in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere are avoiding desktop virtualization partly because they perceive it as being more difficult and complex than it is – if you can believe a survey carried out online, sponsored by a vendor and containing far too few responses to be statistically significant.

The survey is from U.K.-based tabloid TheRegister (tagline: Biting the hand that feeds IT) and was sponsored by Microsoft.

Respondents came from no single geographical region, selected themselves as representative of all the other IT people out there by filling out the survey online, and only totaled 192 separate responses.

If you paid attention during statistics class in college you've already stopped paying attention to this. For the rest of you (and me, who also didn't pay much attention during stats), the survey doesn't answer any questions for sure, but does raise at least one interesting one.

Why did the graphics people at the external service bureau TheRegister hired make the graphics so damn hard to read?

The less immediate question is whether end-user companies really do avoid desktop virtualization because they think it's too complicated.

The writeup includes the usual reasons virtual desktops should have been the thing in the IT world during 2010: the ramp-up to wide adoption of Windows 7 during a recession that kept many organizations from adding hardware powerful enough to run it; budgets that continued to get slimmer without slacking any of the support requirements that eat so much of them; and increasing push by end users to use non-standard devices such as tablets and smartphones without losing access to any of their data or applications.

All those things should add up to a well-fertilized market for the sale of virtual desktops. And they did sell much more (it's not clear yet how much more) in 2010 than during 2009 and 2008, both of which were also supposed to be the Year of Desktop Virtualization.

It also maps out some of the same results we've seen in other surveys – that big organizations tend to expand their Citrix shared-OS, dumb-terminal virtual desktop installations and add a few streaming apps, streaming desktops or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure seats where needed. Smaller organizations partition end-user hard drives to install a "work" OS and application set, then let employees use the small part of the drive for their personal stuff.

The surprise comes when looking at potential hurdles and whether they're worth overcoming.

Companies that had never installed virtual desktops rated each of six possible problem areas a "major blocker" in greater numbers than companies with virtual desktops rated any of them.

Acquisition and deployment cost was the most-cited potential showstopper for companies with virtual desktops, with 20 percent of respondents flagging it.

The least-cited potential problem for inexperienced companies was the network infrastructure cost, with 22 percent.

Almost 40 percent of the inexperienced companies rated cost a major blocker, and 37 percent said building a business case would be just as big a problem.

There have been a number of other surveys about virtualization that show many companies have trouble figuring out the best strategy for them. Most of the confusion is about cloud computing, and most of that comes from the tendency of vendors to stamp "Cloud" on everything from remotely hosted computing services to spray deodorant marketed to geeks.

There is also a lot of confusion about which of the 12 million products or delivery methods offered by Citrix (especially), VMware, Microsoft and other companies is a reasonable one.

But a two-to-one margin on how hesitant a company should be to try a new technology, based on a lack of practical knowledge of how complex it could be?

I'm hoping that's an artifact of the survey method or self-selected population or just annoyance at the habit of Citrix (especially) and VMware and Microsoft and the rest of them to tell even experienced IT people they can have virtual desktops any way they want them, you just tell us what you want.

That doesn't help. What helps is a few recommendations, not a blanket assurance you can put a virtual client on any device that will carry an electrical charge.

If the survey is accurate, the vendors need to ramp down the hype a little and focus on education. And the IT people who responded need to study a little so they can give a decent answer when the CEO asks about whether VDI really is as miraculous as the airline magazine made it sound.

Making the right choice on virtual desktops isn't going to make or break your company or your career. Not knowing whether to make the choice or not? That's just failing to pay attention.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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