I have spent a lot of time thinking about virtual desktop as of late. Much of it talking to customers, reading analyst reports, and contemplating what makes a compelling platform for VDI to run on. A common theme that keeps coming up, is cost and complexity; Which are the same excuses we have been using to avoid VDI for the last several years. I have also started hearing a new argument that questions the validity of VDI in general; Windows is dying and the ‘desktop’ is no longer necessary.
I can understand why in the face of cloud based services, HTML5 and mobile apps, some could feel this way. I’m sitting at my desk writing this blog post on my MacBook Air, but I could just as easily be laying on my hammock writing it on my iPad, using any number of apps or cloud services. My personal mail is in the cloud, I use Microsoft Office Live and Google Docs frequently, and I have purchased more mobile apps (Android and iOS) in the last month than I have PC or Mac software over the last three years. I’m confident this is the new norm and am not arguing end user computing isn’t moving in this direction. What is clear is this new end user computing model, which is still a hybrid of traditional desktop and mobile devices, doesn’t change the single most compelling argument for VDI; Control.
When I think of all the work issued laptops I have received over the last decade, one common action comes to mind; PC or Mac. I reformatted the machines the day they arrived from my IT department. I supplied my own OS, office applications, web browser, security (in some cases), and handled patch management and backup (again, sometimes) on my own. I use DropBox, Evernote (synced to the cloud), sync my calendar between Outlook and Google Calendar. I also run a ‘work’ VM in VMware Fusion or Workstation for corporate necessities. I am an IT and corporate governance nightmare, but when you think about it, my reformatting a laptop isn’t much different than using an employee-owned mobile computing device or cell phone.
As we move in the direction of employee-owned devices, cloud based services (not necessarily public cloud) and HTML5 based apps, the need for corporate governance and IT control does not diminish, it increases. IT needs new mechanisms to control end user interaction with data and to secure the IT infrastructure. Virtual desktop is up to the task. The form virtual desktop takes, or even if we call it virtual desktop at all, is irrelevant.
VMware’s Mobile Virtualization Platform gives us a window into how this new world will initially unfold. VMware MVP provides a corporate profile, or instance on an employee provided phone. Corporate IT can still control how the user interacts with corporate resources and data while the employee has the freedom to select the phone, maintain personal data, select apps and keep a personal phone number. In a nutshell; It’s an employee-owned device with a secure IT controlled VM. IT can deploy it’s own set of cloud based services and HTML5 based apps while at the same time maintaining control, security, backup and corporate governance. It’s essentially a modified check in/check out model, similar to what we can deploy with traditional VDI today. I’ve never used VMware MVP nor am I endorsing the product, but I like the model it represents. From here, it’s not hard to imagine an IT provided secure browser (similar to a VDI portal) that connects the user to an HTML5 virtual desktop. Think something akin to a corporate run Chrome OS.
If you believe the traditional desktop if dying, you can find plenty of supporters still lining up daily at 7am in front of Apple stores nationwide fighting for the iPad 2. If you think cloud and HTML5 based apps are the future, you are right. This does not mean virtual desktop is pointless. What it really means, is we should be embracing virtual desktop to prevent the wild west among corporate end users; Regardless of the form the ‘desktop’ takes or what device that desktop resides on.