Next Up, Virtual Desktop Systems

When it comes to choosing a user platform, the choice may soon have less to do with selecting a physical hardware platform and more to do with accommodating actual user workloads.

I had just finished my review of VMware View 4.5 when I walked past a Chase bank branch opening up at the corner of Market and Second Streets here in San Francisco. As our industry stands on the cusp of virtualized user workloads, it was somewhat shocking to see a bunch of PCs being hauled into a brand new bank.

The branch office, set to open Nov. 16, is filled with new office furniture and what appear to be new PCs at more than a half-dozen desks. In fairness, I don't know if the PCs are new or simply recycled from the Chase depot, but I had to ask myself why, in a heavily regulated industry and in an office in the heart of technology land, would a business install physical desktop computers when a good alternative-virtual desktops-exists?

Of course, there are many good reasons to outfit a new branch with tried-and-true, well-understood user technology. These reasons range from using platforms on which applications are known to work to streamlining training. But as I watched the technicians pulling cables and connecting keyboards, mice, PIN pads and some very traditional-looking PC desktop systems, the question still floated in my head, "Is this really the most cost-effective way to support these workloads?"

What I know-and most of you don't-is that this seemingly prime retail location was previously a Rand McNally travel store (at a time when the company had physical stores) and most recently, a bank branch. Over the years, I've watched this site be gutted to the concrete and rebuilt with all-new everything.

This probably explains the insistence on using soon-to-be-dated equipment in this otherwise completely customized and carefully protected bank branch. Today, the momentum of uniformity and known weaknesses trumps the disruption of the virtual desktop.

The question for desktop managers is, "How much longer is this going to last?" Inexpensive and durable thin clients, the nearly relentless improvements in data center efficiency and the spreading realization of virtual machine advantages are not going away. Local workloads on physical systems are not the heart of the action for IT organizations that want to innovate to advance the business objectives of their organization.

The end of the runway is in sight for IT groups that unquestioningly deploy physical desktops. Physical desktops still overshadow virtual machines. But the stature of those physical systems-and the shadow they now cast-is diminishing.