Cloud-based VDI: The End of the Desktop?

Arthur Cole
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Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has been trying to get off the ground for some time, and, to be fair, it has met with a certain amount of success.

But it's also fair to say that it has failed to gain the respect it craves as a transformational enterprise technology, if only because it has not completely replaced the traditional hardware desktop. The latest tack, however, has been to push VDI onto the cloud, which supporters say solves many of the startup and infrastructure costs that plague standard solutions.

While this, too, has met with a modicum of success, the technology as it has evolved so far seems to beg not the same old question, "Can we remake the desktop?" but rather, "Has the very notion of a desktop become obsolete?"

Although companies like Desktone still tout the benefits of desktop hardware, it makes no secret of the fact that its cloud-based VDI platform can be delivered easily to notepads, smartphones and the like. So not only can you lower costs by relying on the cloud for your VDI infrastructure, but you have much greater flexibility when it comes to accommodating new generations of users who view Macs and PCs the way we older folks look at rotary telephones.

Of course, security is always a concern whenever you venture onto the cloud, which is why some firms are starting to specialize in encryption, authentication and other tools for remote VDI infrastructure. For instance, a company called Cryptocard has devised the BlackShield Cloud platform that utilizes one-time passwords and other tools to provide secure access to virtual desktops via mobile devices. The system employs a high degree of automation and a flexible licensing model that helps lower ToC.

VDI is also helping to break down long-standing relationships between desktop software and hardware. Users of OnLive Desktop, for example, can now port full versions of Windows 7, along with Word, Excel and PowerPoint, to their iPads. The service is available free for up to 2 GB of storage and then requires a monthly fee as data capacity and features are added. Pro and Enterprise versions allow organizations to easily bring iPad users into the enterprise fold by providing access to internal platforms without provisioning or deploying additional resources.

All this is impressive, no doubt. But does it really mean the end of the desktop? Probably not, at least not right away. As ZDNet's David Chernicoff points out, software may craft the user experience, but it's hardware that elevates software to its highest levels. As the cloud increasingly assumes responsibility for processing and delivery tasks that desktops perform now, the need for top-notch devices on the user side will diminish, but that won't happen tomorrow.

For the time being, users still need robust desktops for higher order applications, whether they are housed on the local hard drive, networked servers and storage or on the cloud. Change is coming, but it won't mean the end of the desktop as we know it.

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