Just as Chrome OS and Google Apps upload your computing life to the cloud, desktop virtualization lobs it into your own data center. In the classic VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) scenario, you compute using a cheap, terminal-like thin client while your entire Windows desktop environment resides on a rack of muscular servers with everyone else's desktop environment. Securing and maintaining endpoints is vastly easier.
But Windows licensing costs -- not to mention the cost of virtualization software and compute-heavy server hardware -- have prevented desktop virtualization from taking off. Yes, as the InfoWorld Test Center revealed in last week's comparative review of new VDI solutions, Kaviza, NComputing, and Pano Logic are taking some of the cost and fuss out of VDI. But what about mobility? The high-bandwidth requirement of VDI renders remote laptop computing impractical.
The client hypervisor is one solution to the mobile problem: The entire desktop environment downloads to whatever client hardware you're using and runs in a virtual machine, which isolates it from endpoint security vulnerabilities. When you're done with your session, the client VM syncs with the server. This requires regular-strength (rather than thin) client hardware, of course. And Microsoft has not exactly encouraged desktop virtualization because it charges full price for every user. It's enough to make you consider combining desktop Linux with desktop virtualization.
Step away from that desktop
One way of looking at this new landscape is that desktop virtualization relocates personal computing to the private cloud, while Google spirits everything away to the public cloud -- and Microsoft is trying to split the difference between its own public cloud and the desktop. Applications on smartphones and pads are cloudy by nature, because these devices lack the capacity to run big apps and store big data, which would be too risky to carry around everywhere anyway. Sorry, folks, you won't escape cloud services any more than you can live without Internet access today.
The writing has been on the wall for the one-size-fits-all desktop for a while. It's too expensive and demands too many IT resources. The transition will be long-running, of course, and conventional PCs will still be needed, but the whole point is that different people require different client solutions -- and the same people should be able to use different devices with access to the same functionality and data at different times. Apple, for one, acknowledges this many-sided future in its apparent plans to merge Mac OS X and iOS.
What of the implications for IT? On the one hand, the explosion of new personal computing devices and OSes sounds like a nightmare because an unprecedented diversity of platforms will need to be managed. That pain is already being felt. On the other, the consumerization of IT will ease the sting, because users will be able to take unprecedented responsibility for their own apps and devices. However it all shakes out, you can bet that after this year in particular, our computing lives will never be the same. Bank on it.
This article, "2011: The year personal computing was reinvented," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter and on your mobile device at infoworldmobile.com.