Going Green with Desktop Virtualization

Aly Orady (Profile)
Friday, April 10th 2009

New Dawn of Virtualization

According to a recent McKinsey and Company report, data centers emit 0.3 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions.  As the use of virtualization in data centers becomes more prevalent, the green benefits including the significant savings on cooling and power are becoming more well-known. While organizations continue to adopt server virtualization for data center consolidation - with Gartner predicting that there will be 4 million virtual machines installed on x86 servers by 2012 , - virtualization technologies are being leveraged in broader IT beyond just the server. Desktop virtualization, for example, is seen as one of the strongest areas of growth. Gartner predicts the number of virtualized PCs to grow to 660 million by 2011 . Traditional PC desktops certainly represent a far larger cost center - from initial acquisition and maintenance costs to the green impact - than the datacenter. Moreover, a 2008 study from The Climate Group approximates that PCs consume around three times as much power as the data center.

Desktop Virtualization

Just as server virtualization is not a new, but rather a renewed concept, desktop virtualization also has existed in previous forms. Companies like Citrix, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Wyse and HP have long been in the business of leveraging the power, security and manageability of servers to host desktop applications and distribute them to alternative desktop clients.

However, instead of hosting desktop applications on server operating systems that look, act and are managed differently than PCs, the new wave of solutions use hypervisor technologies from companies like VMware, Citrix and Microsoft to host multiple instances of Windows XP or Vista in the data center and then connect the display, keyboard, mouse and USB peripherals over the network from a desktop device.

This strategy, called desktop virtualization, results in better management savings than associated with thin clients by enabling far easier deployment and management in the data center and eliminating many of the application compatibility and end user retraining issues. Most importantly, the end user desktop experience is unchanged and end users can keep the same OS configuration they had with their traditional PC.  In addition, many desktop virtualization solutions do not have the technical limitations of thin clients and do not require unique skills or software to enable all the utility of the Windows experience including management and drivers.

Green Savings and Server-based Desktop Virtualization

Saving Power

The initial savings from server-based desktop virtualization solutions are similar to those experienced in server consolidation. One of the greatest benefits of server virtualization is the energy saved when many servers running multiple application loads at low utilization can be combined on one physical piece of hardware. Because server-based virtual desktops run from the data center, power savings are twofold: server-based virtual desktops allow organizations to further consolidate and save on power and cooling in the data center. Additionally, since most virtual desktop client devices have significantly smaller power footprints than their PC-counterparts - as little as just four watts versus over 150 watts for a traditional PC - organizations save power on the desktop.