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What is Client Virtualization?

By Gayle R.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Virtualization means to create a virtual or simulated version of a computer resource, as opposed to a real one. There are several types of virtualization technologies, including server virtualization, which consolidates an organization's physical servers, and application virtualization, which separates the applications from the operating system (OS). Client virtualization, also called desktop virtualization, leverages an organization's client-server network architecture to reduce the number of physical desktop computers required to accommodate all of the company's users.

Client virtualization simulates a user's desktop experience, but separates the desktop from the hardware, OS, and applications. The simulated client desktop, or virtual machine (VM), runs on a physical host server that's running virtualization software — the core of which is called a hypervisor. Many virtual clients can run on one host server with each client having different user properties, data, applications, and even OSs. This allows users to seamlessly access their regular desktops from inexpensive low-end, thin-client, or shared machines.

This centralization of computing via client virtualization helps information technology (IT) departments reduce hardware costs and lets them set up new desktops in a matter of minutes rather than days. It also simplifies the tasks of keeping the client computers up-to-date with software updates, security patches, and virus definitions, which frees up IT staff for other critical tasks. Computer client virtualization is especially useful in test or development environments. It allows system administrators and software developers to install and test applications while isolated from other machines, thus not placing their networks at risk.

For users, virtualization offers more flexible computing. The technology lets them securely access their applications and data from anywhere on their local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), or wherever they can access the Internet. Also, because IT can solve most client application problems centrally, users can benefit from less downtime.

The environment can also benefit when companies virtualize their IT infrastructure. Virtualization reduces the number of physical machines required to accommodate an organization's users. This typically reduces computing inefficiencies, energy consumption, hardware disposal, and space requirements, which lessens the impact on the environment.

Virtualization has a great deal of potential for companies and their computing infrastructures. It allows companies to provide highly available, secure, and flexible access to critical data and applications, without the cost and energy overhead of a traditional physical desktop environment. Large enterprises typically stand to gain the most from virtualization, but as the technology advances, small- to mid-sized businesses, and even home computer users, will likely reap benefits from virtualization.

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Discussion Comments

By strawCake — On Aug 08, 2011

@indemnifyme - Well, maybe you can try to sell your boss on the idea! It never hurts to ask, right? Plus I think the money saving benefits would be worth it.

And also, since virtualization allows users to access their applications from anywhere with an Internet connection, I think this could allow people to work from home. I'm not sure what industry you're in, but having employees be able to work from home or on the go might be beneficial to your boss.

By indemnifyme — On Aug 07, 2011

I wish my office would do something like this. Unfortunately, I work in a pretty small office so I don't see client virtualization happening anytime soon.

It's such a pain whenever software has to be installed on the computers. You have to go around and manually install things on each computer. It's the same with updates, security fixes, etc. It's always very time consuming.

If we could just do it one from a centralized serve it would be so much better and I think it would save a lot of time!

By miriam98 — On Aug 06, 2011

@MrMoody -Yeah, that’s one way to do it. Actually Microsoft used to make this thing called Microsoft Virtual PC and they had a version for the Macintosh, but they discontinued that a few years ago.

Since then Macintosh users have had to come up with workaround solutions like the one you described.

The only disadvantage, in my opinion, with that virtual Windows setup on the Mac is that it cuts into your RAM. The RAM is divided between the Windows applications and the Macintosh applications, and I think that slows down your computer speed in the process.

With the partitioning and rebooting alternative, it’s a bit of a hassle but you get full access to the resources.

By MrMoody — On Aug 06, 2011

I have a friend who is graphic artist and a die-hard Macintosh computer fan. He said that most graphic and video applications run on the Mac, which is true.

However, there came a point in his career where he needed to use some Windows desktop applications. Some of those applications had Macintosh versions of the software, but many did not.

The workaround was that he was able to create a virtual machine on his Macintosh computer. Inside this virtual machine, he was able to install the Windows software.

As a matter of fact, with this arrangement he was able to have Windows and Macintosh programs running side by side in the same PC. It used to be that you’d have to partition your hard drive, install both operating systems on your computer, and reboot if you wanted to switch from one to the other. This way he could avoid that altogether.

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