A Cloudy Year Ahead for Desktop Virtualization?

Arthur Cole
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Another year is upon us and so we embark again on that time-honored tradition: the year-ahead prediction.

It seems like year after year, however, one technology keeps making a return on both the "Technologies to Watch" and "Technologies that Are Done-For" lists. Desktop virtualization has once again defied all logic and is poised to either finally make a break-through in 2013 or fall into the dustbin of history.

This year, we have IT management software developer Adaptiva predicting that the economics of desktop virtualization will finally prove too great a burden to bear as user demand for responsive and personalized desktop experiences overburdens centralized computing architectures. Instead, enterprises will shift toward more distributed content delivery systems that are more adept at tapping under-utilized resources like storage and bandwidth. Distributed architectures will also enable more rapid software and services deployment.

Perhaps, but what if you combine desktop virtualization with distributed architectures, namely the cloud? Companies like Desktone say they are rapidly winning converts to its desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) approach because it vastly reduces the burden on internal infrastructure while still providing a highly flexible, customizable desktop experience. The company claims it can cut costs in half using its latest multi-tenant approach that allows cloud providers to deliver both desktop images and applications on demand to multiple clients at once. At a time when users are increasingly engaging enterprise data environments through tablets, smartphones and other non-PC access devices, the user interface can no longer remain trapped in the desktop.

Indeed, desktop virtualization should no longer be viewed as a simple efficiency tool or as a means to improve user convenience, says cloudtweaks.com. Rather, it should be an integral part of disaster recovery and business continuity efforts. When infrastructure goes down, it does no good to have data and applications back on line if the office desktop is still dark. Much better, then, to have desktop images backed up in the cloud so jobs can still get done even if workers need to log in from home or on the road. You might have to pay for extra bandwidth, but at least the data will continue to flow while full recovery takes place.

And let's not forget that the reigning champion in desktop operating systems recently took a major step toward desktop virtualization. The new Windows 8 platform was designed to work comfortably on both the desktop and the smartphone, and with built-in support for Hyper-V, users have a tremendous amount of flexibility in shuttling images from one device to another. At the same time, enterprise managers have the ability to monitor and govern desktop environments from a central location.

On balance, I'd say the prognosis for desktop virtualization looks pretty good for the coming year. It seems clear that as an internal solution, it requires too much support infrastructure, primarily storage, to be cost-effective, particularly as the number of seats scales up. Once you broaden it to external, hosted infrastructure, however, the cost side of the equation drops dramatically, and the ability to deliver virtual desktop images across a wide and disparate enterprise ecosystem improves.

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