Virtualizing the User

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Virtual User Infrastructure: What, Why and How It Enables Desktop Virtualization

In an effort to reduce the cost of managing user desktops, enterprises have begun to think about delivering virtual desktops that can be generated on-the-fly and enable standardization to make desktop management easier.

On the market today, we see a number of solutions in various stages of development being designed to enable a single disk image to be used to support thousands of user desktops, thus minimizing the cost of the desktop. We are also seeing an excess of application virtualization technologies that enable enterprise applications to be easily layered on top of the operating system. These two technologies have had a tremendous amount of thought and development put into them over the past few years and are, by far, the most obvious solutions for enabling lower cost delivery of applications to end users.

If we look at the mainstream desktop virtualization vendors, they have almost exclusively focused on these two aspects. The best way to visualize this is to see them as Lego blocks in that with the right blocks we can build anything we desire. Basically, each block represents an operating system component or an application component, all of which can be simply plugged together to form the desktop for the user.  However, these technologies, when integrated, can become quite tricky. Sometimes we may build a figure and discover that it does not function the way it needs to, so we rebuild.

With these technologies, enterprises realize that isolating  layers, in order for them to be managed individually, is the most cost-effective method. However, the integration and interoperability of the applications and operating system  are crucial to the success of the desktop -- and end user satisfaction for that matter.

Say for instance, yesterday the applications were all locally installed on the desktop, provided as delivered/packaged MSI’s or even installed by IT from CD/DVD/USB drive. Therefore, all applications were locally installed with no isolation from each other, which meant that there were no integration worries when it came to applications being aware of each other. But this usually creates issues relating to incompatibilities between the applications, and in many ways this is exactly why application virtualization vendors exist today. Here we have created a Catch-22 situation in that the very technology that we created to fix application compatibility issues causes an application incompatibility issue, making the desktop harder to manage for the user.

It can be argued that the user experience is without question the MOST important aspect of a desktop delivery, and this remains the same whether the desktop is physical or virtual. Studies have shown that if the user does not accept the solution during proof of concept or pilot, then the adoption of virtual desktops will simply not be accepted in that enterprise.

In order to find the balance between delivering the best user experience and reducing desktop management costs, some form of Virtual User Infrastructure (VUI) needs to be implemented. The role of this would be to pull together the various forms of application virtualization at the desktop (regardless of whether that desktop is virtual, physical, terminal services or even a mixture of these) and enable the user to use the applications without being hampered by the aforementioned interoperability challenge. VUI is all about ensuring the user has a pleasant desktop experience.
VUI needs to cater to:

  • User personalization independent of
    • Platform (physical, virtual, RDS etc)
    • Application virtualization technology
  • User installed application management
    • Business applications that are required but have not yet been packaged for the desktop
  • User data management
    • User documents and other data that is created by users within their applications

These are commonly seen as the three key areas that a VUI solution needs to be able to deliver against in order to satisfy end users and ensure enterprises are being most cost-effective.

I am extremely interested to hear your feedback on this…how do you define the role of the user?

Posted by Simon Rust on 07/29/2010 at 12:49 PM


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