Look around your organization. What does your end-user desktop environment look like? Windows-based PCs? Docked laptops? Some combination thereof? Look around your organization five years from now, and the desktop landscape will appear very different.
It Will Be Virtualized
1. It will be virtualized
Virtualization has saved money, time and space in the data center, and desktops will increasingly reap the benefits of virtualization in the next few years. As with server virtualization, desktop virtualization has the potential to improve the security, manageability and flexibility of the end-user desktop.
In a March special report, eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks defined desktop virtualization as the products and services that separate the client software environment from the client hardware environment.
Labs identified three different types of desktop virtualization: server-based computing on Microsoft’s Terminal Services or Citrix Systems; running multiple operating system instances on a platform such as VMware ESX Server; or running a desktop environment in a virtual instance within client hardware.
Desktop virtualization has been around in some form or another for many years, but performance concerns-as well as reticence of end users to run anything but a big, fat client-prevented deployment to the masses.
However, the time seems to be ripe for desktop virtualization, with mainstream use inevitable in the next few years.
“Thin-client computing has always been on the horizon, but the horizon keeps moving back,” said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC. “There was always a performance hit or sacrifice, but it’s catching up to what we expect in terms of performance.”
Dell’s Darrel Ward sees virtualization as the solution for many IT challenges.
“We think the next five years will be among the most interesting in the history of the desktop,” said Ward, director of corporate desktops, Dell Product Group, in an e-mail to eWEEK.
“The big challenges are the move to mobility, security, hardware and software asset management, and greener IT. Desktop virtualization will become a huge force in addressing these challenges because it can offer answers to all of these challenges,” he said. “It supports even greater workforce mobility and flexibility. It improves data control and security while simplifying OS, application and image management. It also allows customers to build a power management plan that aligns with their particular challenges from desktop to data center. However, we do not see it as a ‘one size fits all’ solution.”
Indeed, virtualization is no silver bullet. One issue is how applications will be licensed in a virtual environment, with Microsoft’s licensing schemes causing some of the biggest concerns.
Said a reader commenting on the Labs’ desktop virtualization special report: “When our organization sought to deploy an application in a virtualized environment to make life easier for our staff and our business partners, we ran smack-dab into a very restrictive Microsoft licensing policy. Today we deploy our application on the business partner’s machine. However, to deploy it virtualized, Microsoft wanted us to pay for a desktop OS license, even though the business partner’s machine was already running Windows XP.”
Another reader agreed that the desktop is the future of virtualization-after a few kinks are worked out: “Desktop virtualization is the next step in virtualization, and, after it works out a few problems, [it] will probably grow to a respectable percentage of all IT desktops. Performance may be an issue, especially over long WAN links, should congestion [or printing issues] arise. It would be wise to investigate how the underlying protocols will impact your WAN traffic and look into solutions to optimize (RDP, etc.).”
Wanting to extend the benefits it has seen from server virtualization to the desktop, Nina Plastics deployed Pano Logic’s server-based solution, comprising Pano desktop devices, Pano software services and VMware virtualization software.
Before deciding on Pano, Kunal Patel, IT director at the Orlando, Fla., manufacturing company, evaluated a number of other options.
“We looked at thin clients and other solutions, but they added complexity at the desktop level. We would end up being maintenance and would never have time to implement new technologies and methodologies for the business.”
Patel implemented the Pano solution last year. He said the technology has saved Nina time (IT staffers don’t have to touch every machine) and money (each Pano device costs $300, as opposed to the $700 to $1,000 Nina was paying for workstations from Dell or Hewlett-Packard). The technology also saves electricity, said Patel, using 5 watts of power per Pano device, compared with 200 to 300 watts for traditional desktops.
“There is nothing to mange at the end point-no moving parts, no OS, no drivers to install,” Patel told eWEEK. “Everything is done in the data center. So what we’ve done is eliminated all of these machines with different processors, memories, chip sets [and so on], because now we have Panos at every user’s workstation. Everything is uniform because they’re being run on identical VMware ESX servers.”
It Will Be Mobile
2. It will be mobile
May 2005 marked the first time notebooks outsold PCs during the course of a full month. By 2011, IDC predicts, laptops will represent 66 percent of corporate purchases, with 71 percent of consumers opting for a notebook.
This trend will continue, as more and more employees work remotely and the number of wireless hot spots increases. Also driving this trend will be the growing power and performance of laptop systems.
But “corporate” plus “mobile” won’t necessarily equal “laptop” five years down the line.
Knowledge workers are already tethered, figuratively speaking, to their BlackBerrys and Treos. These devices may not currently offer the full functionality of a traditional desktop system, but they don’t call them “CrackBerrys” for nothing.
A device that comes closer to offering a reasonable facsimile of the desktop is, ironically, the iPhone. Apple may not have intended the popular device for the enterprise, but business users have embraced the device and are anxiously awaiting iPhone 2.0, due in June and slated to include more corporate-focused features.
The One Laptop Per Child project’s XO will also influence the mobile desktop of the near future. The XO laptop was designed as a low-cost system that could be distributed to children in developing nations, but it has set the bar high with its security, wireless and power-saving capabilities. Your end users may not be using an XO in five years, but chances are good that they will be using a mobile device influenced by the XO.
In May, the OLPC demonstrated the XO 2.0, which is designed more as an e-book reader than as a traditional laptop.
It Will Be Secured in Depth – And By Users
3. It will be secured in depth-and by users
It’s common wisdom that security should be applied in layers. That’s not always done today, but the layered approach may be standard operating procedure in five years time.
eWEEK Labs’ Brooks believes that the future of client security is security in greater depth, “where all the processes that run do so with the least amount of privileges they require to do their job. Also, all the code that runs on your system will be vetted by one or more of a group of trusted parties, and cryptographically signed to give you the assurance that it is what you think it is.”
Brooks added that virtualization will also have security benefits, allowing users’ desktops to be segmented into isolated containers-for example, one for personal applications, controllable by the user, and one for business applications, managed by the IT department.
Virtualization has the potential to ease management chores and reduce risk, but the job of the IT department will likely get more difficult as end users bring a wider variety of devices into the organization and onto the corporate network.
Sixty-nine percent of eWEEK readers surveyed by Ziff Davis Enterprise Research said their organizations limit IT support to specific devices, but that may change in the next five years as the barrier to entry to mobile devices gets lower and the choices grow.
“There will be more influence from the user on the network,” said IDC’s Shim. “Historically, IT mandated what happened, but as more users become more technically savvy, they’re able to influence what’s being used.”
Organizations will continue to mandate and support the use of specific equipment. However, to ensure that corporate data is secure no matter what devices are accessing it, IT departments will have to assume a bigger role as policy maker, and end users will have to assume more self-service tech support.
It Will Be Running Windows – Maybe
4. It will be running Windows-maybe
Microsoft operating systems have pretty much had a lock on the desktop since the dawn of the PC. Organizations ran Windows on the desktop and upgraded whenever a new version of the OS came along.
Earlier this year, Ziff Davis Enterprise Research conducted a survey of eWEEK readers about their organizations’ client OS plans. When asked what was the primary reason for not moving to Windows Vista, 37 percent of respondents selected “Other Windows platforms are meeting our needs,” and 31 percent selected “Too many flaws with Vista so far; we’re waiting for a service pack or the next generation of desktop Windows.”
That next generation is Windows 7, which Microsoft showed a glimpse of at the D6: All Things Digital Conference in May.
Windows 7 is supposed to be lighter and faster than Vista, with a completely new user interface. Maybe Windows 7 really will be everything that Vista wasn’t, but it’s also two years away.
In the meantime, Apple’s OS X is gaining steam in the enterprise, and desktop Linux is catching up to its server counterpart in terms of functionality and performance. In fact, in its review of Ubuntu 8.04, eWEEK Labs said, “Canonical has marshaled the best of what the open-source world has to offer in a Linux-based operating system that’s capable of mounting a serious challenge to Microsoft Windows on mainstream desktops and notebooks.”
Windows is still unrivaled when it comes to hardware and software certifications. However, OEMs such as Dell are loading desktop Linux on mainstream PCs, and the Windows-Office nut is getting easier to crack with the growing use (and usability) of online options such as Google Apps.
Indeed, within the next few years, many of your core applications will be delivered over the Web in a SAAS (software as a service) model. As such, the applications will be accessed via a Web browser that is basically acting as the operating system.
In an April special report, eWEEK Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza said this new paradigm will require that businesses “take a much closer look at the Web browsers on which they standardize, especially in the areas of compatibility, adaptability and security.”
Windows isn’t going away, but while Microsoft gets its client OS house in order and figures out what it wants to be online, the end-user desktop will evolve to accommodate the apps and operating systems that are right for the user-rather than the apps and operating system Microsoft wants you to use.
It Wont Be a Desktop at All
5. It won’t be a desktop at all
In five years, the end-user desktop won’t be a desktop at all.
The end user will access applications and data in the cloud, from whatever Internet-connected device he or she happens to be working on-be it a traditional desktop PC, a laptop, a smart phone or a device yet to be unveiled.
And with the renaissance of RIA (rich Internet application) platforms, Web-based apps will deliver robust, fat-client-like capabilities, including offline access.
Unified communications, meanwhile, will bring together people (both internal and external to the company), applications and data in ways that increase efficiencies and create new opportunities, according to a November 2007 special report by eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia.
Unified communications, or UC, can break down barriers by tying together disparate communication modalities-presenting a unified interface for VOIP (voice over IP), instant messaging, real-time video, whiteboarding and presence. Users will be able to efficiently navigate and migrate among the different communication channels-using different computing devices-easily initiating collaborative work sessions with other employees as needed.
In short, the end-user desktop is still firmly planted in the homogenous cube in the brick building in the office park, but it’s also on the smart phone in the bleachers at the soccer game-and everywhere in between.
Debra Donston is the editor of eWEEK. She can be reached at [email protected].