Deskbound, virtually unlimited
20 November 2013 | 0
There is a wide and growing range of technologies for desktop virtualisation available today but in essence the concept is not new. In fact it has been in the market, working well for organisations of all sizes, for well over a decade if you include Citrix thin client solutions. That is technically remote desktop virtualisation, but the market reality is that, by and large, no one at the customer end much cares about the specific architecture. The concept is clear: centralise control of the ways in which users work and the data they use or create by abstracting the PC or individual device and interface from the infrastructure. The key results are that the users lose no application functionality, but minimal or no data resides on the device. The various flavours of virtualisation that enable all of that have different balances of advantage in technical and in cost terms. So the business case may vary, but the principles and the objectives remain the same.
In recent years, VMware has been to the fore in desktop as in all other areas of virtualisation. Earlier this year it identified this as one of its three priority business areas, together with hybrid cloud and the software-defined data centre. Speaking at its VMworld Europe event in Barcelona last month, Erik Frieberg, the VMware VP leading the product marketing for End-User Computing, was very clear on the three key market drivers for the virtual desktop. “Security and corporate compliance are of major significance. When you think of the proven dangers around user laptops and the rules that corporations keep trying to enforce, the option of a hosted desktop is a winner. A lost or stolen laptop then is just a brick, with no data and only device value.”
Another big driver is the flexibility and productivity that the virtual desktop can give the individual worker. “Look around at this or any other business conference today and you will see dozens of people working on iPads and other tablets. Close up, you could see that many of them are using their Windows desktops on a Mac, with their Outlook email and calendar and so on,” Frieberg points out. “Users usually take that for granted, but they do like the ‘follow me’ desktop—no matter what device you access from, your desktop will be exactly as you left it last time.”
The third major benefit from the corporate point of view is business continuity and disaster recovery, Frieberg says. “If a major adverse event occurs, the corporate systems fail over to wherever has been planned and the people can work away anywhere. The days of hot desk DR centres are gone. Nowadays the instruction is more like ‘If the office has a problem, just go home’!” The current estimate is that a total 8-10% of the world’s PCs are virtualised, a figure that Frieberg believes will double of more in the next couple of years. Acknowledging that a virtual desktop today costs more to operate than a physical PC, he forecasts that the cost crossover point will come next year. “Storage is a major element of the cost in a virtual desktop architecture but that is coming down rapidly. Our Virtual SAN storage platform, for example, will reduce the total cost of ownership by as much as 50%.”
As for the specific architectures, Frieberg accepts that most desktop virtualisation will be hybrid in some respect. “Most of our customers today are still working with an on-premise solution but there are certainly multiple use cases for a cloud architecture, just as there are for an outsourced option and a managed service. We are talking to potential customers in the Middle East, for example, where cost is simply not an issue. But the lack of skills is a major consideration, so they are looking for a hosted and managed desktop in order to gain the other advantages of control and flexibility, plus the economics of the OpEx subscription model.”