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The Sami people of Scandinavia are said to have hundreds of different words for snow. The technology known broadly as user virtualization doesn't have nearly this many, but its growing importance in IT industry circles has spawned a number of alternate descriptions, such as 'workspace management', 'persistent personalization' and 'profile management'.
However it's defined, there's no question that user virtualization solves difficult problems for IT departments. Its central purpose is managing an individual's data, personal files and applications as a distinct layer that's separate from the hardware, operating system and application layers. User virtualization's benefits include better security and smoother Windows desktop migrations and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) projects.
For IT departments, user virtualization is about delivering a consistent experience to users regardless of what type of desktop they're using, where they’re located, and whether they're using a mobile device or a notebook. Preserving and managing employees' personal workspaces across different devices and connection scenarios is crucial in these iPad and notebook crazed times.
"With user virtualization, you're managing the user and ensuring that you're protecting valuable assets, regardless of what device or apps they're using," said Peter Rawlinson, chief marketing officer at AppSense, a New York City-based user virtualization vendor.
While VMware, Citrix and Microsoft have their own user virtualization products, smaller vendors have stepped into the fray with products that address more specific pain points. As the mobile workforce continues to swell, user virtualization is emerging as a must-have technology for IT departments.
"With desktop-as-a-service and VDI, you now potentially have a user who is moving around through the day through several different desktop delivery models," said Jeff Fisher, vice president of business development at RES Software, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
There's been plenty of activity in this space over the past year. AppSense last February scored a $70 million round of venture capital funding from Goldman Sachs, and Citrix in August acquired RingCube, whose vDesk product preserves personalization of user settings and speeds migrations from physical to virtual environments. Liquidware Labs, another user virtualization player, adopted a two-tier, worldwide distribution model and in November inked a distribution deal with Arrow ECS.
Organizations currently planning Windows 7 migrations -- and there are many, as Windows XP usage worldwide has been steadily declining -- are logical candidates for user virtualization. Whether they're migrating to a physical or virtual Windows 7 desktop, organizations can save themselves a lot of hassle by maintaining personal settings and desktop setup scripts.
Next: Greasing The Skids For Desktop Migrations