Desktop Options: Pros and Cons

Examining the many enterprise desktop choices, from on-demand to thin clients to muscular SmartPhones.


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Posted October 11, 2007

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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Well, in the enterprise the votes appear to be in and the winner is – drum roll please – Windows XP SP3. And I can say that before Apple’s Leopard platform has even shipped.

For the Apple folks, don’t get overly excited because Windows Vista isn’t exactly cutting through the enterprise market either, and it appears SP3 will flow into the segment in large numbers. Linux, whose supporters have been touting as the best platform overall, is still under 1% on the desktop even though it has doubled its market share. And if this was any other product, after this many years with this little result, we’d write it off like we did the Commodore platform, even though it was vastly more successful in its time on the desktop.

Yet the security risk alone of staying on the same platform for too long, as was recently pointed out by Symantec is about as far from a good idea as I can think of. In this post Symantec correctly points out that Microsoft’s older platforms are aggressively targeted because they have a greater need to be patched and criminals use the patches to identify the exploits. In this latest instance they focus on Office but make broad references to the patch process as the source for the attacks. The newer the platform the fewer the exploits, and given that the current crop of folks is no longer script kitties but professional criminals looking for customer and personal information, the risks have never been greater.

For the companies this isn’t trivial either. Hardware OEMs live on churn and would like it a lot better if the market swapped out hardware on an annual basis rather than every 3 to 5 years. On the other hand, one of the big trends a number of us have identified is the move towards green initiatives, and high hardware churn is about as anti-green as we are going to get given what’s going into landfills. And, if you are smart (and if you are reading this I’m guessing you are) you’ve learned that new OSs are best on new hardware and if you don’t do one you won’t do the other.

That creates a mess and I think it is well past time we rethought the desktop.

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Dell On-Demand Desktop: Pros and Cons

Dell just released a more advanced version of their alternative to thin clients called the “On-Demand” desktop. This offering places the storage, all of it, on the network and creates a nearly no compromise blend of desktop hardware, centralized storage and management, and networking technology.

While you could still experience network lag and networks would need to be optimized for high performance, this creates physical separation between the hardware and the OS. It requires the entire solution to be tuned to ensure a seamless experience, which is why the solution bundle includes the desktop hardware, server, storage, and networking components. Based heavily on Citrix to deliver, the solution the result costs around $1,100 per desktop and addresses much of the complexity surrounding traditional desktop management.

This is a good way to centralize the software, allowing more assured patching. It should lower overall storage requirements, increases overall control and security (both physical and virtual) by centralizing the repository someplace safer than the desktop.

The advantages of this approach is that it’s very close to what PCs currently are in terms of experience and hardware. The hardware can be reconfigured with hard drives and redeployed, which provides protection against future changes that may make a more traditional configuration more practical. And there shouldn’t be huge problems in bringing in components from other vendors (though practically speaking I doubt most will do so because of potential support issues with Dell).

The disadvantages are that it really doesn’t decouple the OS from the hardware, it just physically moves where the OS resides. It places a lot of heat and complexity at the client end (just like PCs) and it doesn’t handle disconnected PCs like laptops, which are to displace desktop systems at a relatively rapid rate. This solution isn’t particularly green from the standpoint of limiting hardware disposal problems or reducing power costs overall.

Next page: HP’s Thin Client and Blade PCs

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