When it comes to the future of computing, Intel isn’t placing any bets on a specific model.
In an internal research paper and online survey of more than 700 IT managers that is now beginning to circulate, Intel found that none of the various alternative computer models that have emerged in the past few years will dominate enterprise computing in the near term.
The survey looked at five different models: Terminal services, VDI (virtual hosted desktop), PC blades, and operating system and application streaming models. While the Intel study found that all five have benefits for IT departments, including enhanced security and centralized management, the drawbacks of each mean that none will likely replace traditional desktops and laptops anytime soon.
Intel, the world’s largest supplier of the x86 microprocessors for servers and PCs, does favor the OS and application streaming models compared to the alternatives, Michael Ferron-Jones, manager of the Emerging Model Program for Intel, told eWEEK.
“If you look at the similarities of all the models, the conclusion here is that the future is yet unwritten with respect to which one of these could be the breakaway winner,” Ferron-Jones said. “You are either deploying [these different models] in a niche today or two years from now you have moved it into a somewhat bigger niche. What we are not seeing is the wholesale replacement of huge swathes of PCs being taken out [and replaced] by these models.”
The reason Intel likes the OS or application streaming model — where the operating system, the applications or both are stored centrally in the data center and then streamed out to a PC where the data is executed locally – is because it’s a more incremental way to centralize the management of a computer fleet while creating the least amount of disruption for workers.
“Desktop virtualization is a really big switch and total paradigm shift,” said Ferron-Jones. “With application streaming, from a user’s perspective, it can be a totally transparent. You are still clicking on an icon for an application, but instead of its residing on the hard drive, it’s being shot to from a server. The application is centrally managed and centrally secured and it executes on your machine just like it did before.”
The streaming models also appeals to Intel’s core business — selling as many processors as possible. According to Technology Business Research, Intel shipped about 87 million microprocessors in the fourth quarter of 2007. Of those, it shipped about 46 million desktop processors. The OS and application streaming models mean Intel will continue to sell large volumes of both desktop and server processors in the future.
“They need to understand what direction the market is going in for desktops,” said John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research. “The whole market has been shifting to notebooks and Intel wants to find ways to continue to grow its desktop business.”
While Intel has an interest in keeping the corporate desktop market going, it also has to look at the future and decide if it needs to develop low-cost, low-power platforms for thin-client PCs as well, Spooner said.
To help prove its point, Intel conducted several tests at its testing lab.
During their tests, Intel researchers also found that the VDI model — where the processing power, OS and applications are centrally stored and the standard PC is replaced by a thin client — placed a substantial load on a server and created a 45 percent utilization rate when the hardware supported 20 clients. With more than 20 clients, the researchers “would expect to run out of server processor resources before we flooded our network capacity.”
Through its laboratory tests, Intel found that the streaming model had much lower processor and server disk utilization.
Of the more than 700 companies Intel surveyed, Ferron-Jones said that nearly all were familiar with the new models emerging, but few expected to deploy one of these new models in the next two years. Of those IT managers in the study, about 64 percent said they have deployed some sort of terminal services now, while 39 percent were deploying desktop virtualization, 30 percent application streaming, 15 percent OS streaming and 26 percent PC blades.
Except for terminal services computing, which is considered a mature model, the other four are expected to grow about 20 percent more in the next two years, with OS streaming and PC blades increasing 27 percent in the next 48 months, according to the survey.
Of the different enterprises that participated, financial services were the most receptive to these new models, followed by health care.