Monday, 1 September 2008

Desktop choices

Now I like to think of myself as a mainframer – someone who appreciates all that mainframes have to offer in the world of computing. However, like everyone else who works with mainframes, I also use PCs. Now in the past, I have tried to persuade readers of this blog that there are far more choices than just Windows and Office on their PCs. In fact, I have suggested Macs as alternatives sometimes, and I have definitely extolled the virtues of Linux. This week, I’d like to examine a slightly different alternative – desktop virtualization.

You are probably all aware of the success of server virtualization as a way of letting the IT department gain control of its servers again. Rather than having hundreds (and at some sites that was exactly the position!) of boxes all doing a bit of important work, but nobody being quite sure of how much work that actually was, virtualization has allowed sites to make full use of each server, and know exactly what percentage of the server’s capacity each virtual server was using. This allowed sites to use less space and less electricity, and claim to be leaner and greener while at the same time saving money.

Now, desktop virtualization looks set to make a similar major impact. How do I know, well the US-based Enterprise Strategy Group found that 32% (that’s about a third) of the 700 companies it surveyed were already piloting some kind of desktop virtualization technology. In addition, Gartner has predicted desktop virtualization will become mainstream by 2010; and IDC are predicting that a year later (2011) desktop virtualization software will have a $2 billion global market.

The problem with PCs is that they costly and buggy, and their aren’t enough expert staff around to support them. In addition, they have big question marks associated with security, and management is extremely difficult. What’s really needed is something like a central mainframe with terminals attached to it!!!

One attempt at this model is the thin-client approach used in task-based environments where Windows Terminal Services or Citrix’s ICA protocols have been utilized. These have given quite significantly improved returns on investment, with figures quoted of between 20% and 40%. Bear in mind that the average cost of a PC across its lifetime is reckoned to be 10 times the purchase price.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is set to expand beyond the limits we’ve seen up to now. In future, all the advantages of centralized security, scalability, control, and management (and cost savings) will be combined with the advantages of highly personalized PCs. In effect, each user will have available only those applications that they will use and not a whole range of software that different users at different times may want.

In this environment, PC images become much more manageable, allowing administrators much greater control over them. It also allows administrators to meet the end users’ needs more easily. End users are meant to enjoy a better IT experience than they do now – although we shall see how true that claim is in a few years time! The big advantage comes because organizations make major savings on the operational costs of their PCs. And this is in addition to the gains in security, improved service levels, and the ease of deploying new applications.

So, what company names should you look out for in VDI space? IBM, HP, VMware, Citrix, and smaller player like ClearCube, Parallels, RingCube, and Teradicci, and I’m sure there are others. Plus Microsoft, which isn’t a player at the moment, will enter the market at some time in the next few years.

It’s good to see mainframe ideas pervading the PC world!

No comments: