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Getting the Desktop into the Cloud

by Chris Kawalek
Published February 2011

Part of the Oracle Experiences in Enterprise Architecture article series.

Desktop computer systems are vital to maximizing productivity. Not only is it increasingly critical to get the best utilization possible from all available computing resources, but desktop systems and applications also have a strong bearing on the productivity and effectiveness of employees - the organization's most valuable asset. At the same time, effectively managing a sprawling and evolving desktop community that includes different types of users with diverse needs can be extremely difficult and complex.

The common challenges of managing a large number of unique desktop environments include keeping hardware and software up-to-date, troubleshooting individual systems, security, and access to applications and data. These and other challenges are driving many organizations to reconsider traditional physical desktop infrastructure. Desktop virtualization technology offers a flexible way to address these issues while changing the ways that desktop infrastructure is deployed.

Virtualization is the process of abstracting computing resources so that multiple operating system and application images can share a single physical server, with significant cost-of-ownership and manageability benefits.

EA is the Foundation for Virtualization

Virtualization implies a fundamental change in the architecture. Enterprise Architecture is the backdrop for creating this virtualized enterprise, and EA principles can guide the integration of new virtual desktop environments with existing infrastructure in a way that supports the current and long term objectives of the business.

As such, EA becomes supremely important for an organization that is preparing to make this pervasive shift. A virtualized desktop environment should be part of a company's overall Enterprise Architecture, providing a roadmap for software applications, operating systems, servers and storage infrastructure that are optimized to work together. Enterprise architects can help direct the formation of these environments as part of an Enterprise Architecture framework.

Security is a Fundamental Driver for the Paradigm Shift

While some IT pros may argue that they lose control by giving up their fat client architecture, as we will see, they will more than make up for it by gaining security and control of centralized data assets. For example, we've all heard stories about people losing laptops that contain social security numbers or other sensitive information. Situations like that open organizations up to litigation and other consequences. Once data leaves a company's physical site, almost anything can happen to it.

Desktop virtualization allows administrators to control access by keeping information in the data center. The only information users send over the network is the small data set they're working with. When these solutions are properly architected, the only data on the user's PC includes personal bookmarks, settings, and software that gets them into the virtual server environment.

This architecture is particularly useful in highly regulated industries such as healthcare and finance since it permits IT professionals to manage sensitive assets and control access to data and applications. Centralized security and identity management are easier to maintain within a controlled server environment.

Optimizing the Virtualized Desktop Environment

Virtualized computing environments utilize standardized templates for various user activities. Enterprise architecture is crucial to this process because it helps developers formulate a comprehensive roadmap that provides consistent structure and direction to the IT architecture. The heart of virtualization is abstraction, or a loose coupling between service requestors and the services themselves. Requests are satisfied from pools of resources that are invisible to the requestor and can be dynamically adjusted according to need.

Just focusing on the CPU layer is insufficient. Performance bottlenecks and single points of failure can occur at any layer in the architecture. A balanced system needs virtualization applied to all the layers. Many critical elements-including storage disks, database servers, application servers, and web servers-all need to be deployed as pools of resources that can be dynamically scaled and configured for failover and failback.

To create a template, a system administrator creates a "perfect PC" for each major function, such as finance, HR and procurement. These model environments include the optimal applications for each function along with all resident controls. Administrators only need to manage a few templates, based on job functions, instead of managing thousands of individual desktops. Those virtual machines can be tightly locked down. They can also be updated at the system level without disrupting users' personal settings or files.

Certain protocols are better for certain tasks. There are many choices available for the protocol that each type of client uses to communicate with the desktop virtualization server. Here again, a well-defined Enterprise Architecture is important for making sure all the pieces fit together properly and can be sustained with minimal effort.

Key Advantages of Virtualization

Desktop virtualization, supported by an Enterprise Architecture Framework, can help increase the flexibility and capabilities of desktop infrastructure and reduce the cost of serving large numbers of users with unique data and equipment requirements. When properly architected, virtual desktop solutions can increase security, improve stability, simplify management, and lower operational costs.

Additional Enterprise Architecture resources:

About the Author

Chris Kawalek is Principal Product Director for Desktop Virtualization at Oracle Corporation.