The New War for the Client

Michael Vizard
Slide Show

Desktop Virtualization and the Death of the PC

It may simply be a question of "when" not "if" a range of mobile computing devices displaces the PC.

Just about every major server vendor has been pushing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) as the new cure for all IT management ills. For example, Cisco this week extended its VDI portfolio with the addition of a thin client and a SoftPC offering that are capable of supporting multimedia applications when attached to a Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS). To better cover its client bets, the company also announced a partnership with Citrix under which it will support that company's desktop virtualization offerings alongside similar software from VMware.

While the server technology is new, the case being made for VDI is almost as old as IT itself. VDI gives IT organizations more centralized security and control, while making it easier to move systems around. The only thing that's really different these days is that with the advent of the Bring-Your-Own-Technology (BYOT) movement, it's easier to support a multitude of client devices if all the application control is centralized on a virtual server.

According to Phil Sherburne, Cisco vice president for enterprise systems and architectures, the client issue will ultimately be determined by how much any given IT organization wants to lock down their client devices.

But as IT organizations learned during the previous debates over thin clients versus rich desktops, just because something is technically possible doesn't mean it will happen. Users have not warmed to thin clients, and while the thin client user experience is getting better, people are attached to their PC devices. At the same time, others argue that the arrival of Windows 8 means that we can have all the IT benefits of desktop virtualization without compromising any aspect of the user experience.

Naturally, this debate sounds all too familiar to just about anybody who has been around IT for any length of time. Whether the rise of virtual servers will fundamentally change the debate remains to be seen. But for thin client advocates it seems that hope springs eternal, and with the advent of virtual servers, the opportunity to refight a battle they felt they should have won the first time around is just too tempting to pass up.

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