For larger CPA firms and businesses, we recommend using the Enterprise version of VMware with full disaster recovery options with a Storage Area Network running in conjunction with the virtualized servers. This approach protects against a complete server failure while allowing all users to continue to operate. Three physical servers have the capability of supporting the equivalence of 24 to 36 servers, and can easily support 100 users running a file server, Exchange, SQL, a document management system, an accounting system, plenty of remote access and other specialized applications. A NetRescue appliance with this configuration provides even more protection.
VIRTUALIZATION FOR DESKTOPS & LAPTOPS
For your desktops or laptops, virtualization is very practical. Personally, I have used workstation virtualization since 1999. In recent years, the applications have improved so much, and the hardware to run the virtual machines is so much faster. Today, I won’t run a desktop or laptop without virtualization software installed. My applications easily move from one computer to another by copying a disk file one time, saving hours in a new computer setup, and providing a way to run my applications in the event of a catastrophic failure or theft of my equipment.
Key competitors in the desktop space include: VMware Workstation or VMware Fusion for the Mac, and Microsoft Virtual PC or Windows 7 with Windows XP virtualization. Each of these products has different features and capabilities that make one or the other better for the right situation. Personally, I run VMware Workstation on my production machines. The reason? The small licensing fees allow me to create virtual machines that I can run on a Windows laptop, Apple Mac, on a Linux workstation or on a server with no changes. This option gives me true portability of my applications to any environment.
The new Windows 7 operating system has a mode called Windows XP virtualization that allows you to run applications as a transparent virtual machine. This allows older applications like QuickBooks 2005 or a tax program from before 2006 to run on the latest operating system. The installation is easy and the virtualization operation is so transparent that you’ll be hard-pressed to understand that you are truly running a virtual machine.
The next evolution of desktop virtualization is particularly important for you to understand. Desktop virtual machines are now being run off of larger servers. The advantages are more speed, less maintenance and the ability to use lower-powered hardware including Thin Clients as workstations for end-users. This technology still has some rough edges for laptop users who disconnect their machine and go to the field, but it is very smooth for users who spend most of their time in-house or at homes.
For example, the typical tax preparer could have a virtual desktop that is run from a thin client in the office or from a personal computer at home. There would be no reason to carry a machine back and forth or to go to the trouble of setting up both an office machine and a home machine. We have done something similar historically with Citrix or Terminal Server, but not with the speed or flexibility of this new method.
Key competitors in Desktop virtualization include the following: VMware View, Citrix XenDesktop and Microsoft App-V and Med-V. Licensing pricing is still evolving, but VMware View is around $1,815 for 10 users in the gold version. By the time you calculate software licensing, hardware costs, installation and maintenance, you will find that virtual desktops will also drive down the cost of computing.
VIRTUALIZATION – ALL COMPUTERS LEFT BEHIND
Virtual servers and desktops reduce our dependency on physical equipment while driving out cost and increasing speeds. Some effort is being made to run virtual machines on Netbooks and multi-function phones at this time, as well. The bottom line for you and your firm is that virtualization can allow you to work with greater independence from physical computers at greater speed with more reliability and with lower costs.