Virtual Desktops to Break Through in 2011

In the year ahead, IT desktop managers will feel the "Eye of Sauron" sweep over them.

A battle for control of the end-user workspace will sharply escalate in 2011. Big players from Microsoft to VMware, along with a pack of cloud applications, drove advances in desktop productivity throughout 2010. In the year ahead, IT desktop managers will feel the "Eye of Sauron" sweep over them. Whether that gaze is felt as a threat or an opportunity will depend on whether your organization clings solely to a traditional physical desktop deployment model or lays the groundwork today for the introduction of virtual and Web-based desktop productivity.

For starters, VMware pushed ahead with a full-court press on virtual desktop products for developers, end users and applications throughout 2010 with stepped-up capabilities in Workstation, View and ThinApp. The challenge in 2011 will be to see if and how VMware can drive down hardware, implementation and license costs. This is going to be a challenge for a number of virtual desktop vendors. IT managers need to see these costs go below the traditional physical-only deployment model so that hard-to-measure benefits including centralized patching and maintenance can shine through.

Adding fuel to the desktop debate is Windows 7. Desktop managers will be buffeted by the drive to upgrade end users from Microsoft Windows XP to Windows 7. VMware is already pushing its View offering as one way to make the desktop OS transition. Microsoft ships Windows XP mode in Windows 7 to enable application compatibility and wear down migration resistance. Microsoft's decision to enable Windows XP downgrades from Windows 7 Professional or Enterprise and for organizations that have a Software Assurance contract is an important countervailing force against my predictions.

For those organizations planning to transition to Windows 7, a move to a virtual desktop environment in which to host the new operating system is a valid option. Because of the wide-scale impact of server virtualization and cloud computing, desktop managers must use 2011 to prepare a strategic go-forward plan for both the operating system and the operating platform.

Watch for Citrix to push the envelope of desktop virtualization from the desktop to mobile devices in 2011. The past year saw developments across XenDesktop, XenApp, XenClient and Citrix Receiver. In the year ahead, I'll be watching to see how well protocols such as HDX from Citrix help move high-performance workloads from dedicated physical systems to the virtual desktop infrastructure. In 2010, Citrix used HDX (VMware used PCoIP and Microsoft used RemoteFX) to batter audio and video performance roadblocks. In particular, Citrix used its prodigious application delivery experience to show that compute-intensive applications can be used in a virtual desktop. In 2011, high-performance workloads will be an interesting area to watch for virtual desktop advances.

Thin clients and the reuse of existing hardware will morph from "ho-hum" to "let's see" in 2011. The convergence of Windows 7, desktop virtualization and the increasing use of cloud applications such as Salesforce will put these hardware considerations at the top of my watch list in the coming year.

The changes I've predicted for 2011 mean no business-as-usual for corporate desktop managers. The platform and implementation choices I predict mean that day job functions in the desktop ecosystem are going to change. There will likely be less need for desk-side assistance and more need for technicians who are comfortable with data center operations. It's time to brush up on data center networks, storage and compute to ensure you have a space in managing the desktop workloads of the near future.