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24 May 2011

Desktop virtualization trends in 2011

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Wiping the dust off the crystal ball we keep locked away in a special box here at Quest and peering into the not-so-distant future that is 2011, what do we see for desktop virtualization? Well, a few things:

1) Cost reduction -The VDI adoption to date has been the greatest in areas where the benefits massively outweigh the costs. For example, "full" VDI (hosted Windows XP and 7 desktops) has been adopted where security, data sovereignty or device independence are such major imperatives for organizations that they are willing to pay higher CapEx costs than they would for traditional desktop deployments. Examples of industries where we see this include: defense, healthcare and finance. Interestingly, education has been another early adopter, primarily because education licensing and hardware discounts skew the economics in favor of desktop virtualization, moreso than we see in the commercial sector.

For the wide adoption of desktop virtualization, organizations must see a sizable reduction in the CapEx cost far below that of a physical desktop. This lower cost can make VDI a serious consideration for all organizations, not just those with specific needs. To cut CapEx significantly, multiple approaches are needed: (a) greater use of Terminal Server (more of that in a moment), (b) storage optimization , (c) a better virtualization of the user experience  within the Windows desktop, and (d) a smarter strategy for offline and mobile users. We expect to see major progress in all these areas in 2011.

2) Terminal Server/Session Host resurgence - We hear increasingly of VDI pilot projects that have stalled on economic grounds, finding new life only when someone dares to mention the term "Terminal Server." The fact is that as much as 90% of the technology in VDI is what's used also in Terminal Server. But most people don't realize there's a simple, low-cost way to deploy applications and desktops to task workers using almost identical technologies - and at a fraction of the cost of VDI.

There are at least two reasons for this knowledge gap: The first is that VMware created widespread awareness of VDI, but offers no serious support for Terminal Server and don't promote it; that's because Terminal Server doesn't help VMware sell many hypervisors. The second reason is that Citrix's primary market and the bulk of its revenue comes from the enhancement of Terminal Server, but few people know that MetaFrame, Presentation Server and XenApp are extensions for this underlying product platform.

As the market becomes more educated about desktop virtualization in general, and not just VDI, we expect to see a lot more organizations realize that they can meet the needs of their task workers with Terminal Server for less than VDI costs, and that blending these technologies will deliver even more savings.

There are situations where Terminal Server won't work - such as in cases of application incompatibility, and when support for some devices attached to user endpoints requires VDI - but it's perfect for task workers and office based workers. In addition, Gartner has documented at length the cost savings of Terminal Server over traditional physical desktops.

3) Education - The market will simply become more knowledgeable. A lot of VDI pilot projects start today because a reputable vendor tells organizations, "you gotta try this" and gives them a bunch of cheap or free licenses. After no small amount of effort, many of these projects end in disillusionment. In 2011 we'll see greater awareness of alternatives to overcome the pitfalls of VDI, and ways to achieve better and cheaper results.

Flexible management is everything - and we see central control of multiple desktop virtualization types as key to realizing the promised OpEx savings. We also anticipate more awareness of which features are simply "checkboxes" rather than must-haves. Consumers have spent a lot of time and energy demanding that Windows applications be crammed onto tiny smartphone screens, even though they have no usable business benefit. The coming wave of the tablet device in 2011 presents a much more usable mobile platform for remote access to Windows desktops and applications. This brings me to my next trend.

4) Growing diversity of mobile access devices - The iPad showed the world how far mobile device technology has come in 2010, and we are expecting a new crop of tablet computers in 2011. Those who would have traditionally carried a clipboard and used thin clients or PC "hot desks" to do their jobs are looking at tablets - with the biggest demand coming from manufacturers, hospitals, and other healthcare organizations. We're also seeing a lot of demand in the education sector, where students are trying them as laptop alternatives on campuses where desktops are available virtually.

5) The Cloud - This nebulous term applies to everything and means so many things to so many people. In the world of desktop virtualization, it primarily refers to virtual desktops being served from a cloud-based datacenter rather than an on-premise one. This is very much infrastructure-as-a-service rather than platform-as-a-service, but it's in its early days in either case. The biggest challenges are extending an enterprise authentication domain into the cloud and licensing. Licensing has not yet caught up with the idea that the entire user desktop with its applications can be delivered on demand, as a monthly or quarterly subscription service, with no lock-in or perpetual contract. The momentum behind cloud computing is immense, and with the huge capacity and growing network bandwidth available at ever lower prices, customer demand will surely drive the growth and acceptance of desktops in the cloud as well as changes to licensing during 2011.

At Quest, we'll be following these developments closely and will continue to provide innovations to accommodate them - with technology that's just as impressive our crystal ball.

About Jon Rolls

Jon Rolls is vice president of product management for the Quest Desktop Virtualization Group. Jon joined the Quest family in 2004, and brings 15 years of software industry and Windows management experience, including product management roles with Citrix, ScriptLogic, as well as virtualization and web acceleration startups.

Jon has a bachelor's degree in pure mathematics from the University of Warwick, England.

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