Strangely, I’m suddenly writing more about thin client computing this year than I did when thin client computing was the poster child of Oracle and Sun’s diabolical plan to take over the desktop, almost two decades ago. Their strategy was flawed, however, because they focused on lowering the cost of PCs rather than where the real opportunity likely resided: increasing performance and productivity for those who needed both and were willing to pay for it. Change is expensive and if you chase people who don’t have money, you’ll likely find, like Oracle and Sun did, that they aren’t thrilled with the idea of paying more up front with the hope of getting some kind of lower operating cost going forward. Worse, users have never been willing to trade performance for IT cost and will complain up a blue streak if forced down that road.
Well Dell, VMware and NVIDIA this week launched a very different kind of solution, the first ISV-certified virtual workstation appliance solution. And it is nothing short of amazing. What is fascinating is that they are demonstrating a strategy that is the opposite of what Sun and Oracle envisioned, yet they have companies literally lining up to use it and toss out those old PCs (well, workstations) for something much, much better. It is the Tesla automotive model applied to computing.
Let’s talk about that.
Where the Tesla Model Excels
I’m at the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference (GTC) this week, and during the keynote, Elon Musk, the guy who is the closest thing we have to Steve Jobs, was on stage talking autonomous cars. While he focused on the joint development he was involved with, partnering with NVIDIA, I couldn’t help but think through why his electric car effort has been so much more successful than anyone else’s.
Almost everyone else positions electric cars as a cheap alternative to gas and talks about how much gas you’ll save. The problem is that you end up paying two or three times what you’d have paid for a gas car and then you end up with a cheap car, for a lot of money, that has no range and no performance. The tradeoffs are ugly.
Musk focused on the luxury car market and people who were willing to pay a premium for an experience. He gave them the best car experience, gas or electric, on the market. The cars have a huge battery so they have range, they’ll take a very fast (super) charger, which tops them off in a fraction of the time, and buyers get a service experience in which not only doesn’t the car break very often, but when it does they come to you with a Tesla loaner. Compare that to the usual experience, in which you go to them feeling lucky to only lose a day, and you’re typically given a junkie rental car to drive, even if you bought a high-end Jaguar.
What made Musk different was that instead of going cheap and missing expectations, he went luxury and exceeded them.
NVIDIA Grid Computing + Dell/Wyse + VMware
Using a very similar model, NVIDIA, Dell and VMware announced a hardware platform targeted not at low-end PC users, but at high-end workstation users. This is because this class of customer will pay nearly whatever it costs for the best performance they can get and, as data files have grown, they’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with traditional workstations.
This NVIDIA Grid/VMware solution places the processing power next to the data so the time wasted moving files around (hours to days) is largely eliminated and collaborative project work isn’t held up because of huge file transfers. In addition, this class of customer has huge security issues ranging from needing to protect movies in progress, to compliance with regulation to competitive advantage. By keeping the data central with a solution that never has to copy it, you can alarm and set policies against anyone copying the data. They might be able to look at it, and work in it, with illegal access, but they can’t copy it and dissect it at their leisure like they could if the file was copied. And given that they’ll want to copy it, you are more likely to catch the attempt before they are successful.
Engineers in architecture, defense, rendering, pharmaceuticals and other industries that have a massive need for speed, use large files, and have unique security requirements are reportedly lining up for this joint solution due to market in May. That’s all because these vendors saw the opportunity differently. This is a VDI solution on steroids and evidently just what the doctor ordered.
Wrapping Up: Pat Gelsinger’s Hard Work
It is fascinating to watch this technology come to market because it showcases that the Tesla model can work in other industries. We shouldn’t forget that. Rather than focusing on people who want to save money, first focus on those who want to spend it and give them something amazing to spend it on. This appears to be a far more successful strategy.
A lot of this is also largely due to VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger. I was a huge fan of him at Intel and often thought he was the heart of that company while he was there. I knew him as the guy with the passion and a dream to make PCs more amazing then they were and are. It was no surprise that when he took over VMware, this was one of the first things he fixed. Until then, the VMware desktop virtualization effort was mostly a bad joke. He drove the company to make it into something amazing, quickly coming from behind, according to NVIDIA, to outstrip everyone else in this segment. He found willing partners in Michael Dell and Jen-Hsun Huang at NVIDIA, and this week, they announced something amazing.
I’m also a big fan of amazing and this has started out to be one hell of a week.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+