Is it the year of desktop virtualization yet?

Is it here yet?

For the last two, three, or maybe more years, pundits have said that the year of desktop virtualization is right around the corner. And each year, they were wrong.

Now, with news of Citrix’ purchase of Virtual Computer and the recent release of an improved VMware View, we’re bound to hear more such talk.

Virtual Computer’s NxTop client hypervisor competes with Citrix’ XenDesktop but overlap aside, Gartner analyst Chris Wolf said the deal brings Citrix a “lot of good IP around client hypervisor technology” that should accelerate the Citrix XenClient road map. (Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.)

But there’s still room for improvement. Citrix, Wolf added, must do a better job showing prospective users how XenClient can reduce endpoint management cost of ownership rather than create “additive operational costs,”– a common concern, Wolf said.

Desktop virtualization doesn’t come cheap

And therein lies the rub. People who expected desktop virtualization and VDI, one of the flavors of desktop virtualization, to save them money were disappointed. For one thing, desktop virtualization often requires server and storage upgrades on the back end. And software vendors soon let it be known that their licensing policies would change to ensure that they get paid for their software, regardless of where it ran.

But experts who really dug into the technology have said that the real value of desktop virtualization and VDI is that those technologies can provide more and better features as well as better manageability.

IT pros like to manage desktops and patch software from a central server, versus touching each PC. Some of that promise has been attained but often, if a user had a problem with his or her PC, IT ended up having to “blow away” applications and data in order to fix it. Tools like Unidesk, which eases the provisioning and profile management of Citrix or VMware VDI,  ease those headaches.  (Dell (s dell) now uses Unidesk to manage images, optimize storage and maintain personal settings of its VDI customers.)

So, the availability of  better tools will allow IT to centrally manage desktop images while also letting users download and run the applications they need could boost adoption. In addition, the booming BYOD movement, where workers bring their own computing devices to work, will further boost demand for centralized patching, updates and management.

Having said all that, will 2012 be the year of desktop virtualization?

Gartner’s Wolf isn’t saying that but he does see significant momentum — and significant room to grow.  “The market penetration is roughly 1.5 percent of the total enterprise desktop market. We expect that to grow to 8 percent to 10 percent penetration by 2015,” he said.

That may not be a tidal wave, but it’s something.

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