A combination of forces — including the quest for greater energy efficiency in the data center — is spurring a surge in adoption of virtualization and commodity hardware on Wall Street. Most large firms have several virtualization projects on the drawing board, and exhibitors at the SIFMA Technology Management Conference this week are all over the trend. Exhibitors' virtualization activity is backed by market projections. IDC predicts that the virtualization services market will reach $11.7 billion by 2011, nearly double the size of the market in 2006.
Virtual desktop technology removes the CPU — the brain of a computer — from a user's desktop, leaving only a keyboard, a monitor (or several monitors, as the case may be) and, in some cases, a small device containing a chip and network ports that receives images from a PC or, more likely, a blade server tucked away in a closet or data center. In the thin-client version of virtualization, there's no desktop device, merely a keyboard and monitor. This opens up space on the user's desk, generates less heat than a regular workstation and usually prevents the user from downloading non-IT-approved software. Gartner analysts predict the number of virtualized PCs will grow from less than five million in 2007 to 660 million by 2011.
Among the vendors in the desktop virtualization space, ClearCube Technology (booth #1829) is debuting its I9440 hosted virtual desktop solution at the SIFMA show this week. (The company announced the product at last year's SIFMA conference, but it's only starting to ship this month.) Wachovia is installing these virtual desktops throughout its new headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.
The ClearCube I9440 uses Teradici's (booth #2010) PC over IP technology, which sends computer images from a host PC to the desktop over an existing enterprise IP network. Whereas older virtual desktop technology had a distance limit of 200 meters, ClearCube says the PC over IP method allows desktops and blades to be separated by distances of any length, even across the globe, with little latency penalty. The I9440 also supports four high-definition monitors with only one network connection, according to ClearCube.
Virtual desktops can revolutionalize a trading floor, ClearCube executives claim. "When traders use multiple workstations and have four or more servers under their desks, that produces a tremendous amount of noise and heat," notes Randy Printz, ClearCube CEO. "Our solution generates only 16 to 30 watts. It's amazing to go through a trading floor with virtual desktops and see how quiet and relaxed it is." And IT support staff can reprovision desktops and handle problems remotely, Printz adds.
Sun Microsystems, which is sharing AMD's booth (#2000), has offered virtual desktops in the form of its Sun Ray thin clients for more than eight years. In fact, Sun hosts SIFMA's Sun Ray-equipped cyber cafe. Donna Rubin, Sun's director of financial services marketing and strategy, says she has seen a resurgence in interest in the Sun Ray on Wall Street. "There are pilots going on with financial services customers who are looking at it for trading, and a number of customers are using them as thin clients in call centers," she reports.
The Sun Ray is significantly cheaper than traditional desktop configurations, Rubin claims, because it does not require a hard drive or memory, two of the most expensive components. The Sun Ray also is energy efficient, she adds, noting that it draws less power than a lightbulb.