Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Virtual Laptops?

The worldwide market for virtualisation software is going to increase by over 40% in 2009 according to Gartner. With much of that growth coming from Hosted Virtual Desktops or HVDs.

In layman's terms that means you don't run your programs on your desktop PC but you get a good view of the programs running on your share of some massive computer complex somewhere else. As there is only one computer with one software configuration, in one place, it is much more reliable and cheaper to run.

Yes you can call me a jaded old cynic - because I fear I have become one. I don't quite see why 2009 is going to be the breakthrough year for the virtual desktop. Except for the big Crunch pressure on Total Cost of Ownership TCO.

My second IT assignment (over 25 years ago) was working on Virtual Storage Personal Computing. With programs running on your share of some massive computer complex somewhere else. It was much better than the first IT assignment where we had 30 developers working on a mini-computer with 4Mb of memory. We only got 3 compiles a day.

And Citrix and Terminal services have been established for many years now. They are certainly successful at distributing those big complex desktop applications, which have the non-pc name of Fat clients. Because of the low TCO - and because they can be right beside the big databases which have to exchange large amounts of data with the fat clients.

The two biggest obstacles to the HVD still remain:
  1. The user experience is never perfect. Given any choice, most users would go for a slower PC, rather than a faster HVD - that might slow down at random depending on what other users are doing.
  2. Most user communities have a mix of desktops and laptops.

Now there are ways around this. At a Citrix conference I attended back in 2000 they demonstrated a thin client running on a Psion 5, the forerunner of todays netbook. And with a 3G dongle and wi-fi, it is becoming practical to run a virtual desktop from anywhere.

The main "desktop applications" - email and office suites- have been optimised to run on desktops and laptops and carry on running when offline. A blip on the line and your virtual desktop is lost.

One of the most pointless virtualisations I saw was to deploy email Lotus Notes (which still remains the best distributed database) using Citrix.

Now there is a virtualisation technology I mentioned in my last blog that offers an interesting way around these obstacles. If you haven't done so already take a look at Moka5. It is a virtual machine that runs on your desktop or laptop. The entire software image is pulled down from a central distribution point, but can then be run offline. User data on the client can be backed up the server, and is kept separately from the Software image (Which can be refreshed if it is updated or gets broken). The virtual machine will run on a variety of operating systems, and can even run on "bare metal" - a PC without any operating system. Their labs have a number of example Virtual Machines: I have a Linux XP, and One Laptop per Child downloaded , as well as my own Windows 7 virtual machine. They even claim that you can put the Moka5 client onto a USB memory stick so you can "provide Users with their desktop: anywhere, any device"

Which is I suppose the ultimate Virtual Laptop.

(For more details behind Gartners view see )


Alex S said...

The term virtual office is simply great to save money and get more profit. I am user of hosted virtual desktop for my small business from Onthenetoffice and its really nice service.

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