Desktop virtualization is a method for replacing bulky desktop computers. In this process, scaled-down computers, sometimes encompassing “thin clients” or dumb terminals, are used. These desktops do not house bulky applications and operating systems, and using this format manages the information technology (IT) environment more efficiently.

A thin client is a device that does not have a hard drive. Instead, it gets its applications and operating power through its server connection on the backend. To the user, a thin client works the same way as a traditional computer. One still uses a screen, a mouse and a keyboard and clicks on an icon to launch a program.

Similarly, a dumb terminal is a computer with basically everything removed and is an option for those with viable computers who want a virtualized desktop with less new hardware investments.

Both methods—dumb terminals and thin clients—help achieve a virtual desktop. But how does that benefit a client compared to a traditional IT environment? First, in desktop virtualization, all of the primary computing operations are housed in a central location; therefore, IT administrators and help desk operators don’t need to go far to troubleshoot problems. The centralization also enables IT departments to sit back in the data center and push out patches, reboot systems and make changes as needed.

Promising for financial clients

Although the financial market has taken significant hits and financial firms have tightened their budgets, they still require the basics, such as computers, for daily operations.

Because of its ability to operate from a centralized location and with lower management costs, the financial market is a prime target for virtualized desktop solutions. Add to that continuous merging of financial institutions, which requires linking and synching together disparate systems, it’s clear why desktop virtualization can help merging organizations function better and faster.

In addition, financial institutions operate in branch-office configurations, with a centralized location that filters out information. Desktop virtualization can be thought of as the next logical step: instead of the main office filtering out snail mail, the main data center filters out computer programs and applications.

Benefits and drawbacks

Like most other technology upgrades, one must figure in the pros and cons before moving forward.

One of the benefits of desktop virtualization is speed in pushing out patches and updates to programs and setting up new users. This means hardly any downtime in the event of a hardware failure and reduced threats from outside viruses.

All of this is accomplished by having the master control in the data center being centrally managed and maintained. By operating in this manner, there is less room for human error and interference, which generally is what causes computer issues.

Though there are some clear-cut benefits associated with desktop virtualization, there are some drawbacks. There are two primary concerns with desktop virtualization. The first is the setup cost. At $300, thin clients are significantly cheaper than traditional desktops, though software still must be purchased.

The second hindrance is simply hesitation associated with this new technology, as with most emerging technologies and applications.

Many users fear not having complete control over their desktop, but virtualization is somewhat akin to the Internet: none of what is used and viewed is locally stored. It is all housed somewhere beyond the physical machine to which the user has direct access.

One thing that may alleviate some of that concern is considering who supports it. Desktop virtualization is currently promoted by leaders within the virtualization space, such as VMware, Citrix, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and IBM. That support lends credibility to the concept.

In the same way that server virtualization revolutionized the data center, desktop virtualization has the potential to do that for the desktop computing space. As technology evolves and emerging trends such as Software as a Service (SaaS) and Cloud Computing become better defined and their respective roadmaps created, it is time for users to start understanding and accepting remotely based operations.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at jennifer.stong@comcast.net.