As virtualization moves beyond the server to the desktop, IT has a greater range of options when it comes to client devices. Desktop virtualization vendors originally touted thin terminals, because theyre cheap and they remove many of the IT headaches that come with managing desktops.
However, thin terminals are just a single use case and arent appropriate for many types of knowledge work. Moreover, many analysts believe that desktop virtualization is being oversold and will only be appropriate in certain situations.
Centralized virtual desktop will largely be a tactical solution, and we dont believe it will penetrate more than 10% of the environment, said Michael Rose, an analyst with IDC.
Rose noted several obstacles to the widespread adoption of the hosted virtual desktop model: performance issues associated with client-server computing, mobility, scalability and application compatibility issues, to name only a few.
Rose went on to explain that while IDC believes virtual desktops run in a hosted manner will have a limited appeal, this doesnt mean IDC is skeptical about desktop virtualization in general.
The real action, he believes, will be with virtualization on the clients. The future is pushing virtualization infrastructure to the edge device. So, I have virtualized servers hosting desktop environments. I also have virtualized client devices hosting virtual desktops at the edge, he said.
Enterprise-class virtual desktops at the edge arent technically feasible yet. In the meantime, the recession is making thin clients look good.
From a pure cost standpoint, there may be an even better and cheaper option than thin clients, one currently mothballed in the warehouse.
J. Wolfgang Goerlich is the network operations and security manager for a financial company in Michigan. Because of the recession, our organization needs to extend the lifecycle of all of our desktops. Unless the device is broken, we dont replace it, Goerlich said.
The desktop lifecycle has been pushed to five years or more. However, when a PC goes down, Goerlich is often able to tide that user over with a legacy device set up as a thin client. Without desktop virtualization, this wouldnt have been possible.
Already, Goerlichs organization is saving approximately $10,000 annually for hardware maintenance, $24,000 for power and cooling and $35,000 per year for software and licensing. The question for Goerlichs organization then becomes what device to deploy when a legacy thin client isnt enough. PCs are expensive. True thin clients give IT one more device to manage, since many have proprietary and unusual operating systems. Besides, theyre not portable.
The key factor is what delivers the best user experience at the lowest price-point, Goerlich said. Netbooks are a good option.
Michael Rose at IDC is looking beyond the form factor of the end device to the variables that will make them cheaper and more flexible.
As [VDI virtual desktop infrastructure] platforms mature, organizations will become more sophisticated in how they manage virtual desktop infrastructures, he said. Management flexibility along with the increased availability of client-side hypervisor technology, which well probably see in the next 12 to 18 months, will make IT managers think beyond server-based environments.
Goerlich pointed to the rise of cloud computing as another variable boosting the appeal of netbooks.
Today, I can accomplish things with a netbook and a browser that only a couple of years ago would have required a Windows client and four to five servers. An economic recovery may indeed slow the growth of netbooks. In the meantime, expect them to gain even more traction as IT managers continue to cope with shrinking budgets.