Just about every article, blog or commentary on desktop virtualization, including many of my own, paints the technology as the poor, struggling orphan of the enterprise: engaging in many ways, but still with no place to call home.
The desktop is too entrenched; VDI responsiveness is still too slow, and the burden on underlying infrastructure is still too great to turn the virtual desktop into a serious contender for enterprise hearts and minds.
And yet the movement continues to swell. According to Morgan Stanley, desktop virtualization is on pace to hit 50 million seats by 2014, a 67 percent per year growth rate. Much of this development is expected to take place in the third world, which is desperate to build out IT infrastructure on par with developed nations, but also eager to avoid the high cost of traditional PCs.
The latest development comes from Dell, which put up an undisclosed sum for Wyse Technology in what is widely seen as a bid to merge its nascent desktop virtualization platform with a strong cloud computing component. In itself, this is not a unique strategy, as there are any number of platforms on the rise that seek to avoid substantial startup and operational costs by pushing VDI onto the cloud. With Wyse, however, Dell gains a robust client platform that features not only ARM-based hardware akin to many current mobile systems, but also a finely tuned operating system, ThinOS, that is compatible with leading virtual desktop environments like Citrix and VMware.
These could be crucial components as the desktop virtualization market continues to unfold. The fact is that IT itself is evolving from a static, siloed infrastructure that has long been resistant to major changes like VDI, to a more dynamic environment in which long-established data and resource architectures are built up and torn down at a moment's notice. As CSO Online's Bob Violino points out, once you view the virtual desktop as part of the major changes sweeping IT - virtualization, cloud computing, mobile data - the obstacles of the past are no longer quite as foreboding.
This isn't to say the VDI floodgates are wide open just yet. As my colleague Mike Vizard explains, cloud-based infrastructure places enormous pressure on I/O traffic on servers and storage systems that still provide the foundation for virtual environments. The obvious solution is traditional hardware improvements, although this leads us right back to the upfront costs that cloud-based architectures are intended to avoid.
So the moral of the story is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Whether it's server, storage, networking or the desktop, virtualization provides a means to streamline architecture and increase data flexibility, but it can only do so effectively through changes to underlying infrastructure.