About 15 years ago, I was walking through the halls of Comdex in Las Vegas, explaining to my then new manager why I couldn’t deliver his latest project to budget. I’d been tasked with overseeing an end to end replacement of the entire network infrastructure from the desktop to the data center for four hospitals in Saudi Arabia. However, at that time we were facing a worldwide PC memory shortage, prices were climbing through the roof with no sign of them leveling off and we were in trouble. What we needed I said was some sort of multi-user Windows NT server that could use memory more efficiently than a PC could and use the existing PCs as X11 graphics terminals or something. As I was explaining this to him, I noticed that we were walking past a large stand plastered with signs that said “Citrix WinFrame” and “Wyse WinTerm”, and being a fairly bright lad I realized this might just be what I was talking about so I pointed him in the right direction and said “Rather like that”. We walked over to the stand, and the rest as they say is history.
WinFrame was a fantastic product, not so much because of the technology (which was impressive) but more because of how it could be used. It allowed me to solve so many problems that pretty soon it became my hammer to hit every IT nail I could find. No money for a desktop refresh? WinFrame! Remote support problem? WinFrame! Low bandwidth WAN link? WinFrame! Badly written database app? WinFrame! Application coexistence problem? WinFrame! Application version skew problem? WinFrame! Stubborn stains? You get the idea. I’d be amongst the first to point out that WinFrame had some significant limitations, but as far as I was concerned the future of application delivery had been written, and it was application virtualization.
Today however, application virtualization is no longer enough. Technology has changed, and as application and operating system capabilities have increased, so user demands have grown to match. Now we need to consider not just individual application configuration parameters, not just the user profile and home directory, but the user’s entire working environment, their data and self-installed applications; and make it available in its entirety any place, any time, and on any device. Welcome to desktop virtualization.
Desktop virtualization is a deceptive term - Everybody understands that at its core, server virtualization is all about being able to consolidate server workloads onto fewer physical servers. Desktop virtualization is much more subtle. It’s not about consolidating desktop workloads into fewer physical servers (although, frequently this is part of the picture). Rather it’s about being able to orchestrate the generation of individualized working environments and enabling access to them in the most appropriate manner taking into account both organizational policy and the user’s local computing and communications environment. And here lies the fundamental difference between WinFrame and today’s desktop virtualization technologies. The nails that WinFrame was hammering against were all technology deficits. Desktop virtualization isn’t a single hammer to use against all kinds of problems; it’s a new set of tools that can be used to create real business value.
With this in mind, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Simon Bramfitt, the newest analyst here in the DCS group. As I cover virtual desktops, one of my initial goals here at Burton Group is to tease apart the various strands of technology that frequently get lumped together as VDI and ensure that we have clear and concise definitions of them. At the same time I’ll be working to define the features and functions that each of these new technologies must possess before we can say that they are ready for prime time.