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The Future of Desktop Virtualisation

Nikolaos Makris of 2X Software considers the growth of thin client computing (and the environmental implications), and where it is heading in the future…

It’s official – the days of the local desktop OS are numbered! By 2014, Gartner predicts that there will be more than 66 million virtualised desktops globally. Hosted virtual desktop growth is likely to be rapid during the next three to five years, with the analyst estimating that units will be equal to more than 40 per cent of the worldwide professional PC market – in revenue terms that’s around $65 billion by 2013.

As companies increasingly look for infrastructure efficiencies in the current depressed economic climate, these figures could be on the conservative side. Either way, this is a hugely popular shift in thinking challenging the old fat client, local OS model. So how far can this go and what are the reasons behind it?
When it comes to infrastructure and operations, Gartner also states that virtualisation will be the most significant trend through the next four years. Virtualisation has been particularly successful in the data centre over a relatively short time, and we are now seeing this approach being increasingly adopted on the client side through application virtualisation and desktop virtualisation.

Therefore, the fastest growing server workload running in the data centre over the next few years is going to be the desktop. The premise of virtual desktops is quite simple – a device consisting of a screen, keyboard and small connector box that hooks up to a reasonably powerful server in a central computer / server room that has all the software, storage and processing capabilities that all the desktop users need. However, implementing this setup organisation-wide can be a challenge. In fact, the entire PC industry is going through the biggest period of change for the last couple of decades as it slowly gets to grips with a virtualised model.

Modern server-based computing systems, which are becoming more popular with LEAs, universities, health authorities and other local government organisations, are already being used widely in corporates. They make sense for medium and larger organisations who benefit from improved application server software, faster infrastructure and the plummeting costs of server hardware. Plus the benefits to end-users include allowing greater productivity, mobility and collaboration. Thin client desktop machines include faster CPUs, memory and video for an improved user experience, yet with no hard disks so all storage is via the network. All applications are also streamed centrally, individually tailored for each user login.

The move to client virtualisation is, in terms of organisational impact, far greater than server consolidation. Server consolidation is a back-room technology primarily of importance to IT operations. However with client virtualisation, while the desktop appears unchanged to end-users, the method by which that identical screen is delivered is significantly different.

For 40 per cent of organisations to soon go client-virtualised demonstrates the magnitude of the financial benefits available, given the organisational challenge presented by the necessary behaviour and process changes. Significant savings include lower client hardware requirements, fewer IT helpdesk technicians (and lower server/data centre costs if using the cloud) increased workforce productivity, plus environmental benefits of reduced CO2 emissions – collectively producing a tempting impact on bottom line (and corporate social responsibility strategy). Moving to thin client architecture and virtualising your desktops can have a dramatic effect on annual costs – some companies are reporting savings of over 80%.

The future of computing – the local desktop OS is dead

As virtualisation is rolled out, the end-user device becomes less important – users simply want to have access to their hosted desktop anywhere. So the desktop or application is virtualised for use on: mobile devices (iPhone, Android); netbooks; and whatever increasingly miniaturised machines the future brings. The delivery of the local desktop thus becomes an ASP model – delivering applications and desktops to anyone with an online connection. This model is not just being adopted by corporates, but even smaller/medium sized enterprises and resellers offering this service for customers.

The ‘No OS’ desktop is really the definition of an authentic server-based computing environment. In its simplest terms, the better the technology, the less you need locally. The future becomes less about people physically installing boxes, but more about offering a hosting service delivered to customers. This is then centrally maintained which is a much more flexible, secure and cost-efficient model.

This service-led approach then evolves onto the next stage – companies don’t want the aggravation of maintaining a server room and the associated admin people – so we’ll see them move the server capacity to the cloud and migrate to a leased rental model. As such it falls under a SAAS (Software-as-a-Service) system, or even a new acronym as it includes the delivery method, CAAS – ‘Cloud-as-a-Service’.

Different companies will deliver their services to the cloud – and customers will pick and choose the services they require from the cloud. It will become as easy and ubiquitous as, for example, receiving television programs anywhere you choose. Companies that are going to succeed at this will offer flexibility – this is critical in a pay-per-app or desktop service.

We’ve already seen the start of this, with the emergence of cloud models from the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Competition is set to increase as new ideas for cloud computing follow in the coming years making access to applications and desktops even easier.

Thin clients – helping companies meet CO2 reduction targets

Virtualisation and thin client computing is not all about financial benefits. With the Climate Change Bill, Gordon Brown has committed the UK to legally binding targets: Greenhouse gas emission reductions of at least 80% by 2050, and reductions in CO2 emissions of at least 26% by 2020. One way for organisations to meet these aggressive targets is through optimising the efficiency of their IT systems. Thin client technology has reduced carbon emissions in Western Europe by 166,000 tonnes in 2007, according to the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. The researchers found British businesses could save £78m in electricity bills and slash carbon emissions by 485,000 tonnes a year by switching from PCs to thin clients.

Server-Based Computing , which uses thin clients, is a well-known solution to rising IT costs, security issues and the increasing complexity of network management – plus its green credentials are impeccable. Thin clients can cut energy usage by more than 50% (including the server) and have a longer life span than regular PCs which means less waste or recycling. While PCs consume 85 watts on average, thin clients and their server only use 40 to 50 watts – this a significant factor in reducing emissions, especially when multiplied by millions.

And finally…

Traditionally the operating system has been the backbone for client and server computing, but new technologies, new modes of computing, and infrastructure virtualisation and automation are changing the role of the OS. The local desktop OS is dead. Long live the virtual desktop OS.

The author

Nikolaos Makris,
CEO, 2X Software

(ITadviser, Issue 60, Winter 2009)



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