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Wanted: Virtual Desktop Services

What if the service provider that offers you online backup could provide ready-to-use desktop configurations, enabling you to set up and manage desktops and laptops without having to touch the users' machines?

If you think it sounds attractive, you're not alone. "We are seeing a lot of interest around desktop virtualization as a service," says Jerry Chen, director of enterprise desktop solutions at VMware. He says VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), which runs desktop environments in ESX, can be used with thin clients to offer centrally managed configuration of desktops.

Others, too, say interest is growing. IBM Global Services, for instance, claims to offer services for virtual desktop setup and management. So does Citrix. And startup XDS just unveiled what it calls a "digital dial tone" service for enterprise desktop management. (See XDS Adds Desktop Virtualization.)

Unfortunately, a bit of digging shows that most solutions are partial, and virtual desktop services are a long way off, thanks to a series of barriers.

"If you mean desktop virtualization as part of hosting or managed services... it has not taken off yet. There are barriers to it succeeding, mostly related to licensing," says Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius. While he acknowledges there's a lot of talk and some action around the issue, Microsoft hasn't budged sufficiently on licensing its operating software for use on virtual machines to make it economically feasible to offer virtual desktop services.

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