As we face times of enterprise mobility, what we are asking ourselves is whether the desktop computer is dead.
We all know these heavy computers engulf much of an organization’s office space, innovations in this mobile space have created a new culture of working, and the question of whether desktops will become obsolete in the not too distant future, arises. Virtual Bridges’ Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technological Officer respectively, Jim Curtin and Leo Reiter, comment on its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure solution.
Enterprise Management 360 asks the questions.
EM360°: Desktops — now we’ve all used them at some point haven’t we? Well, technology has advanced since then, particularly with the ergonomic side whereby we are encouraged to use similar devices in the consumer market today, like laptops, mobiles, and now tablet computers which help create a certain level of mobility.
Jim, are desktops gathering too much dust nowadays to the extent that IT departments should think about a complete overhaul of their organization’s way of working?
Jim Curtin: The desktop in its traditional form is really a device that has all the information on it. It’s in the computer containing the applications, the data, the operating system. It’s what we call ‘stateful’ — it has all the state on that device. However, the notion of keeping all your information, your applications and your system on one computer is dead. It’s absolutely over. It’s dead. And that’s changed by the cloud.
The cloud has changed all this where data sits in the network, it’s out there somewhere and you’re able to grab it from any device. This is a huge revolution. The idea that our computing experience is not tied to one specific computer; it now uses the same exact tools, the same data, it has the same look and feel, but the difference is we’re able to get it off the network. We don’t have to get it from one device and this opens up many avenues of how we do computing now. We have tablets and laptops, we can work from home, we can work from the end client, so the possibilities are endless. The user is still able to access the same exact experience, but is able to do it from any device and this is why the desktop as we know it is dead.
Leo Reiter: The investment that IT has put into desktop practices and desktop management is something that is important in managing this transition gracefully into this new world. We can’t just leave that behind without paying a huge price for that, so the key is to be able to adapt to the environment of the user’s device or work practice without leaving behind all the know how, expertise and investment that has been made in IT over the last two or three decades.
EM360°: Today’s CIOs are working toward answering and responding to a number of different priorities and challenges. Based on your experiences and what you are hearing from customers, what are some of these leading priorities that you address?
Jim Curtin: It’s very important to understand this change from desktop as a physical device to the desktop cloud or virtual desktops that several new things are now possible. The main priorities that CIOs are looking for and are really driving towards virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is lowering cost. A lot of people don’t realize it but a desktop is only really used 5% of the time. This means only 5% of its resources are actually used. If you share that across the server or in the cloud, you’ll get much more utilization which drives down costs on the capital expense (CAPEX) side. CAPEX is a big driver.
With security — affecting computers, laptops sitting on desks, and other types of computing devices — the data is vulnerable. The data is at risk and other people can get it, it’s a huge exposure. And with VDI, which now sits in the datacenter behind the keypad, it can be backed up and be used for compliance. Security, both from a data aspect as well as from an access control aspect, is very powerful when you move to this new world. It’s a huge priority of CIOs.
Disaster recovery and business continuity are also major priorities. What happens if I can’t get in to my company’s building? What happens if I lose a computer? What happens if the datacenter goes down? All these things are exposing the business to tremendous vulnerabilities that with a VDI platform, you’re able to control to a very high degree.
Operational efficiency is also a consideration in how do you do change control, how you add new users, how you provide high levels of service level agreements. And of course, another very high priority is agility. Organizations today need to do the best they can with their IT, responding to opportunities in an agile way, again in a cloud like way.
EM360°: How does desktop virtualization fit within that mindset and how do you see it evolving?
Jim Curtin: I think it’s essential. We like to say ‘you can’t get there from here’. What that means is, you can’t just go from traditional computing to being able to support existing systems on new devices. You need some kind of intermediary technology which is going to virtualize the experience of the user on their desktop and make it available to mobile devices. It’s essential that virtualization is involved in this equation so that traditional desktops are able to be transmitted or displayed on new devices of all kinds. Legacy systems need to be preserved, need to have continuity but they need to be enabled across a range of new devices.
Leo Reiter: Ironically, desktop virtualization will accelerate the adoption of other devices because, as we said earlier, being able to leverage existing apps that we are using today without having to go back and reinvent everything — which could take organizations many years — allows them to move over to new devices and find new ways of working very quickly, without having to rebuild all this infrastructure.
EM360°: Do you think that we’ll see virtualization solutions adapted towards mobile devices?
Jim Curtin: Absolutely. One of the biggest drivers we have is the support of tablets and mobile devices. Virtualization is really enabling that because of this long tail of legacy applications that people aren’t going to rewrite. They don’t even, in many cases, know where the source code is or who wrote them, but they’re very productive applications and they need to be made available to mobile users.
Another point I would like to mention is on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). One of the devices that you see people bring more and more are mobile devices into work. However, it is also computers as well, and virtualization — desktop virtualization in particular — is essential to evolve mobility and BYOD.
Leo Reiter: What we are going to see in the next few years is not only are we addressing the virtualization delivery from the cloud as cloud hosted infrastructure, but also as these devices get even more powerful in the not too distant future, you’ll be able to run offline virtual desktops on these devices given that they are going to be based on more powerful architectures. Not only will we see virtualization being adapted to mobile devices, I think its role is going to expand significantly in the next few years.
Jim Curtin: Certainly. And as a counter point, while there’s a tremendous rush and growth and excitement around mobile solutions, the other side of the coin which is what we’re seeing just as much need for is that computing experience with a big real-estate, for example the need for large monitors or multi-monitors, so when people aren’t mobile, they’re coming back to a desktop where they want to have big screens to look at spreadsheets, documents and analyze things. So it’s just as important that you understand the shift from traditional desktop computing to what we call, very generically, ‘end user computing’. And end user computing means they want to use the mobile device sometimes where it’s appropriate and they want to come back and use something with large monitors other times because of different work requirements. This is what desktop virtualization allows.
EM360°: Of all the priorities and concerns you’ve talked about which CIOs are facing like BYOD, mobility, security, business continuity — what are some of the key advantages that desktop cloud provides?
Jim Curtin: With the enterprise or corporate infrastructure that they have to deal with, this is the CIO’s number one priority. The issue is how we make that more efficient, more secure, and more cost effective. They also have to address new trends like the cloud and mobility.
To accomplish all three tasks, the CIOs feel they would have to virtualize their infrastructure so that they can be future proofing for the cloud and optimize towards mobile devices. People can do this in a modern way with a cloud infrastructure that’s elastic and stateless, secure and easy to maintain.
It doesn’t work when they try to do it with legacy approaches and just try to extend old data center technologies to cover the expansive needs of this very complex set of challenges so, the desktop cloud is essential as a modern architecture for dealing with this myriad of challenges that you’ve just articulated there.
Leo Reiter: I think the key there also is not only are we dealing with multiple different end user computing models, but doing it with one single elegant architecture without having to spend too much time with different management models for each type of end user computing model. It’s very key that the desktop cloud is scalable and flexible, but also allows you to have centralized management for all your end user computing needs and not requiring additional software, hardware or new appliances to handle if the user wants to bring in a new device next week — you shouldn’t have to create yet another way to manage that device.
EM360°: Are the any final thoughts on how you see the IT industry’s attitudes towards desktops changing in the future and how you are adapting your solutions towards advancing technologies?
Jim Curtin: One of the things that is evolving right now is the experience people have with adopting virtual desktops with legacy approaches versus desktop cloud approaches. I think in the early days, people were looking at VDI as just a total replacement of the desktop and were doing multiple use cases all at the same time and getting tripped up by the complexity of trying to handle all these things at once.
What we’ve seen, and what we’ve found successful companies doing, is that they are sequencing their use cases. As we continue to reinforce the base of VDI as the next generation of end user computing, you’re looking at bringing in application capabilities into this and bringing more direct tablet-type technologies to deliver this more smoothly. You’re looking at how you become better integrated in to the cloud so all of these pieces really create a workplace aggregation. This is what we expect to see desktop virtualization driving towards.
Leo Reiter: I think that the attitude towards desktops from the IT department has to really become about delivering what’s important in a secure way, but doing it so that end users actually consume it. If you restrict email access to a thin client only and don’t allow users to get it from their mobile device, what will end up happening is that end users will simply use their personal email from their mobile device, which is a huge security breach for most organizations.
IT needs to focus on how the user is going to be flexible about how they work, but we want to ensure that when they consume our content its being done in a secure way and works in a way that is compatible with whatever model they want to use, rather than controlling the entire desktop end-to-end, which has been the legacy way to look at desktop management.
So, that’s a big challenge but again we feel that with virtualization as well as with advances in the way that we present the workplace aggregation onto these devices and computing models, IT can achieve this.
Jim Curtin, Founder, President and CEO, Virtual Bridges
Jim has been on the forefront of change in the computer industry over most of his 26 year career. At Digital Equipment Corporation, Jim was involved in one of the first PC rollouts and introduction of PC-based tools in the organization. He then moved on to Open Systems with the Open Software Foundation and as Managing Director of Asia Pacific promoted the benefits of distributed computing ahead of the internet.
In 2000, Jim turned to combining the benefits of Open Source and Linux to the problem of desktop management in what has now become known as VDI. Jim co-founded Virtual Bridges in 2006 to take this vision to the next level in bringing VDI to the Cloud.
Leo Reiter, Co-founder and CTO, Virtual Bridges
Leo Reiter is Virtual Bridges’ Chief Technology Officer. An experienced technologist, Leo guides the architecture, development and technical sales teams. His approach to product development considers customer needs, industry trends and visionary direction. Prior to Virtual Bridges, Leo was a senior architect at GTE (now Verizon) where he led various infrastructure software teams delivering innovative solutions using large scale enterprise technologies. Leo also spent several years as a consultant in the telecommunications industry in diverse roles involving design, development, and Software Configuration Management.
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