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For instance, the next frontier for virtualization is the desktop. The real value of desktop virtualization is portability. Just as virtualization makes resources within the data center more flexible, the same holds true with desktops.

The typical vision for desktop virtualization has enterprises looking to this technology mainly as a method of exercising greater control. Simply put, virtualized desktops will be easier to manage centrally. This means that patches are kept up to date, policies are enforced, security is kept current, and help desks calls are reduced.

The disruptive aspect of this, though, would be if virtualization could free business computing from the LAN. Google has tried to push traditional client-server applications to the Web but has been largely unsuccessful.

There are several reasons Google has stumbled with its cloud computing efforts. First, enterprises are reluctant to give up control of their key applications. Second, cloud computing doesn’t cover industry specific niche applications. Third, many of the Web-based interfaces are inferior to those we’re used to on the desktop. And lastly, the real boon for cloud computing is mobility, which has yet to gather momentum. After all, mobile email is lousy enough that it’s spawned an entirely different mobile messaging alternative: texting.

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“If VMware can combine virtual desktops with Web-based productivity and business solutions, while supporting a range of different devices, this could all change, and VMware would be in the driver’s seat,” Jones said.

Taken further, virtualization could serve as an enabling technology for utility computing. Utility computing has been talked about for years, but little has happened outside of the narrow mainframe world. Better still, from VMware’s point of view, utility computing is a model that Microsoft, with its license-dependent approach, is not likely to be a leader in anytime soon.

This all sounds good, but what are the chances that this vision becomes a reality? After all, nothing’s a given when it comes to technology trends. At first glance, there are serious obstacles. The mobile internet has been talked up for years, but is still underwhelming. The same is true for utility computing and any alternative to the standard client-server mode of computing.

Moreover, VMware doesn’t have the in-house expertise to deliver productivity applications or Web-based business services.

Does this mean you should jump off the VMware bandwagon? Not necessarily. A few acquisitions and a strategic partnership or two could make all the difference. In the meantime, VMware benefits from its technical advantages, while other emerging trends – such as the green IT movement and new hardware designed with virtualization in mind – also play in their favor.

The near-term looks good for VMware, even with increased competition in 2008. Long-term viability is the real question. Even with competition from behemoths like Microsoft, Oracle, and Sun, it’s too early to write VMware off. They have a solid foundation in place. The question is: what will they build on top of it?

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