There have been 2 really interesting trends going on that seem to fit together at first, but when you look more closely, they are really running very counter to each other.
First Trend – Mobile Devices
The first is the growth of mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones. These devices are giving people anytime, anywhere access to key information… like their email, their calendar, contacts, and so on.
Second Trend – Desktop Virtualization
Another hot topic is desktop virtualization – and in particular, a specific flavor of desktop virtualization dubbed VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure), which is about running desktops in the data center. This can either be done with a corporate-owned data center, or through service providers, which offer “hosted virtual desktops.”
Chocolate and Peanut Butter?
OK, so it seems these two trends may be two great tastes that taste great together… like chocolate and peanut butter. Why of course, you can use your mobile device to access your hosted virtual desktop, right?
Only there are a few challenges. First, while the hosted virtual desktop is fine for occasional access – e.g., “Oh, no, I really need this information, but I don’t have the spreadsheet – let me access it from my phone.” But if you ever try to do real work on hosted virtual desktops, you’ll quickly find that they aren’t quite as good as a regular PC with applications running locally.
Indeed, it’s interesting to note that in a recent study by Forrester Research, they found that users of smartphones and tablets far prefer using apps rather than using their devices for browsing. Why? It’s because local apps give you great performance – they are running right there (no network lag), so they are very responsive, quick, and a joy to use.
The reality is that all of these new mobile devices are really highlighting a trend toward “edge-computing” – put the computing near the user because it’s fast, responsive, and economical.
These new mobile devices all have a local operating system (iOS, Android, etc.), and they are all running their operating system and the applications locally.
Edge Computing Wins
At the end of the day, what this is highlighting is the power of the edge. There will always be far more computing capacity at the end than in the data center, and solutions that harness this power at the edge will deliver better economics and far better end user performance.
So approaches to desktop virtualization that run virtual desktops on intelligent devices will win out over “thin” or “dumb” terminals, just as devices like tablets and smartphones that run apps locally are winning out over “dumb” phones.
But What About the Cloud?
No doubt there is a big trend toward cloud computing, but smartphones and tablets are a part of this cloud trend, and they all run their operating systems and applications locally. So there’s no reason that PC’s can’t do the same. The winning combination is using a tightly managed PCs that accesses the cloud – including a wide range of cloud applications (e.g., saleforce.com) and services (e.g., Dropbox). By the way, this can be a virtualized PC – just one where the Virtual Machine is running locally on the PC.
So the growth of “apps” on smartphones and tablets is really just proving that edge computing is one of the best ways to access the cloud.