When I put in a couple of requests for new PCs for my staff a few of weeks ago, I wondered: Will this be the last time I do this?
The old desktop model may finally be ready to give up the ghost. No, I'm not getting all hot and bothered about Chrome OS and desktops in the cloud. I expect to see some great Internet appliances out of that, but not full-bore business computing. I'm talking about the many varieties of desktop virtualization. And there's some indication that 2010 may be a tipping point.
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Do I even need to say that managing business desktop PCs is more unsustainable than ever? Every one of those endpoints is an attack vector for well-organized criminals, so patches must be up-to-the minute and users must be relied on not to make dumb security mistakes. And after all these years, some app upgrades and configuration changes still require admin gruntwork at the desktop, the most unproductive use of everyone's time imaginable.
In moving the desktop to a server, desktop virtualization provides not only an opportunity to lock down everyone's desktop environment once and for all, it means all changes can be made on the server side. The savings in total cost of ownership are tantalizing.
But until now, desktop virtualization has suffered from a polarity of extremes. On the one hand, you have good old Microsoft Terminal Services, where thin clients users essentially share a common Windows environment with no opportunity for user customization of the desktop or applications. It's cheaper in terms of licensing and efficient in its hardware and network requirements, but unless all users are engaged in the same activities, the lack of customization can dampen productivity.