Mobile devices could open doors for VDI, despite PC slump

Though PC sales are in undisputed decline, mobile devices and desktop virtualization offer surprising mutual benefits

If work on the desktop is in decline thanks to collapsing PC sales and an explosion of all things mobile, could virtual desktops also be doomed to follow suit?

Few people would dispute VDI has a host of issues that keep it from wide deployment, most of them stemming from the logistics of using the technology rather than the technology itself. It's easy enough to deliver one virtual desktop to a user, but it's far tougher to deliver it across a whole organization -- and do it reliably while not going broke in the process. Small wonder decided to make VDI part of its cloud product portfolio. Why figure out how to alleviate boot storms when you can buy a pre-provisioned Windows desktop from the same folks who probably already run your public cloud infrastructure?

But now mobile productivity is on the rise and eating into desktop productivity in a way that can't be dismissed. What's that spell for VDI? Why virtualize desktops that might not even get used at this rate?

For perspective, I asked Forrester Research analyst David Johnson, its principal analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals, what he thought. He agreed, first of all, that PC business use is indeed being cannibalized by mobile devices, noting at first, "tablets and other alternatives had been merely an additional device, but were not displacing desktop PCs."

He cited several reasons why desktop productivity is ceding ground to mobile: More people working outside the office, unmanaged devices allow users to be more productive, many aging Windows XP machines are being replaced with mobile devices rather than new PCs, and the quality of mobile hardware has exploded.

Along with this last reason, Johnson cited another one: "Technologies like desktop virtualization that allow people to do most of their work on a tablet, but still access core enterprise applications and data, have also improved significantly."

But the shift to mobile devices isn't killing desktop workloads per se -- at least, not yet. It's simply shifting the ways in which those workloads are produced and delivered.

The move to mobile is actually driving the adoption of VDI, says Johnson. "Virtualization is a key enabler of flexible workstyles, and our data backs that up. ... It's a rare case of a win/win, hence the interest from IT, and in fact 52 percent of IT decision makers list desktop virtualization as a high or critical priority for them in 2014."

Not that it's easy to add VDI to an organization -- it often isn't, and Johnson found that among the organizations surveyed, the perceived obstacles are fourfold: The value of VDI isn't clear, the costs are too high (even if they don't have to be, or pay for themselves in short order), the resources aren't there to make it happen, or the technology itself isn't mature enough.

In other words, the shift away from the desktop as a workspace hasn't yet made desktops less worthy of being delivered through VDI. If anything, it's only made them more valuable because it's provided that many more places where desktops can be deployed.

There's still a whole host of problems yet to be solved with VDI and mobile devices. Most of them revolve around form factors and UI -- it's tricky to map touch behaviors to mouse and keyboard actions, and every client seems to approach the problem a little differently. But as workloads of all types move to mobile, there'll be all the more reason to make them work.

This story, "Mobile devices could open doors for VDI, despite PC slump," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.