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How desktop virtualization survived the recession

Desktop virtualization has maintained a position in enterprises and small businesses through the recession.


It's fair to say desktop virtualization has had a checkered past.

As far back as 2005, VMworld had presentations on the topic of desktop virtualization, also known as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. By 2007, VMworld had developed a desktop virtualization track with a number of deep-dive technical sessions. In June of 2008, IDC issued a report on "The Promise Of Desktop Virtualization" touting how desktop virtualization can help rein in the costs of managing and maintaining PC infrastructures.

In February of 2009, CRN reported Gartner's predictions that by 2013, between 10 percent and 15 percent of enterprise PCs would be virtualized. But by May of that same year, virtualization pundit Brian Madden painted a far bleaker picture of the technology with the stinging headline "How far along the hype cycle is VDI? My guess is Phase 3: "Trough of Disillusionment" (note that phase 2 was "peak of inflated expectations").

Now that we are more than two years beyond Madden's post, what's the state of desktop virtualization? There are certainly a number of players in the space, including Citrix, VMware, Wyse, and Pano Logic, just to name a few.

On the heels of VMworld 2011 this week I had a discussion with Pano Logic CEO John Kish (former CEO of Wyse Technology) to get some context on the early market hype, the subsequent evolution of the market, and where we are now. Will the "year of the virtualized desktop" ever come?

Kish notes that the first generation of virtualized desktops, while long on promises, simply did not deliver on their claims of computing performance or cost savings benefits. At best, early virtualized desktop deployments were suitable only for workers in positions that experienced a lot of turnover and who only handled (and had access to) a limited scope of computing tasks. In these instances, computing performance was certainly not a priority.

Thus, despite the hype around desktop virtualization, enterprises and other large organizations didn't buy in. In fact, there was a backlash of sorts against VDI--performance sucked and cost benefits weren't compelling. Two factors surfaced that have since turned the tide on desktop virtualization--the recession and innovation.

Research firm Gartner forecasted $3.6 trillion dollars in IT spending in 2011--the same figure they predicted for 2009 before the full onset of the recession.

By necessity, small businesses needed to take advantage of the cost savings (infrastructure, energy, maintenance, and management) desktop virtualization offered. The recession brought life back to this computing model.

The momentum behind the small-business virtual desktop deployments would not be sustained if the computing experience did not improve significantly compared to first-generation VDI. And if the Sarrel Group's recent independent performance benchmark is any indication, the new generation of virtual desktop technology has met the computing performance standards required by users.

Today, similar to the adoption path that Linux took, hundreds and thousands of proof-of-concept desktop virtualization deployments are now surfacing at the enterprise level. So, while it's probably still premature to predict if this is the year of the virtual desktop, it does seem to have survived the over-hype and unrealized promises of its checkered past.