New flavours of thin computing

New flavours of thin computing

Thin computing is on a tear. And now there are some new kids on the block: desktop virtualisation, streaming, and shared services, according to Wyse Asia-Pacific vice-president of operations, Rick Ferguson.

"They are the new flavours of thin computing," he said. "Virtualisation is a new development in thin computing: it's an adaptation of virtualised server technology."

Essentially, a thin layer of software is inserted between the server hardware and the operating system. This layer supports the management of multiple virtual machines within the server - each virtual machine with its own operating system and applications.

While some virtualisation software allows enterprise desktops to run on multiple, server-based virtual machines, Ferguson said the Wyse Enterprise Desktop Virtualisation (EDV) solution assigned each thin client its own virtual machine on the server.

The EDV experience was essentially the same as a standard PC, he said. One key benefit was that Windows XP Professional executes independently for each desktop in its own dedicated virtual machine on the server, meaning no two users' applications could conflict with one another.

"Because the desktop session is centralised, users can access their desktop from anywhere and at any time, including from another network connection at work or to catch up from home," he said.

Virtual infrastructure
Wyse recently announced a thin desktop device optimised for VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), based on Wyse's thin client OS technology. VMware South East Asia-Pacific director, Mike Sumner, said VDI simplified and centralised the execution of applications in the data centre. It also reduces PC maintenance costs, offers increased security, and allows IT managers to create workgroups and entire departments in minutes.

"It offers a rapid provision of service," he said.

"If users want multiple environments, a virtual desktop is an ideal solution. And users can build a new desktop in a matter of minutes."

Meanwhile, streaming delivers the entire operating environment, both operating system and applications, to the desktop device over a network. The OS and applications are delivered bit-by-bit to the desktop, where everything runs locally on each desktop CPU.

On the whole, the thin computing concept is hitting home with customers given 80 per cent of IT budgets are typically allocated to maintenance, Ferguson said.

Because there are no moving parts, thin computing promises increased security, centralised management, a low TCO, and reliability.

Expect virtualisation and streaming to hot up. IDC figures suggest the Australian thin computing market will grow at a CAGR of 17 per cent from 2005 to 2010 due to new streaming and virtualization deployments.

New revenue stream?
On the streaming front, Ferguson expects Wyse's new streaming manager software suite to extend the thin computing message to new markets, and revitalize key customer segments including government and education.

Customers liked the fact it gave them just what they needed at any given time because the software was delivered incrementally on demand, he said.

The fi rst local example of its streaming technology is taking place at the Tenison Woods College, a co-educational Catholic school in Mt. Gambier, South Australia. The school has cut its PC support costs by moving to the streaming thin clients.

But don't get too excited. Intelligent Business Research Services (IBRS) analyst, Dr Kevin McIsaac, said while there was lots of market potential for application streaming, he was not so sure about desktop virtualisation, which he considered a niche play.

"Application streaming will be a very big market, but may take 3-4 years," he said. "That doesn't mean customers shouldn't start positioning themselves now, similarly to what happened with VMware 3-4 years ago."

Streaming gives users another way of deploying all applications. "Streaming is a way of distributing the desktop to the client; it essentially sits between a fat desktop and a Citrix model," McIsaac said.

Given there are major costs associated with managing a desktop, and keeping applications on it, the streaming delivery approach is lightening the load. "It centralises everything, and users can download the bits when they need it. It is a different way of doing things," he said. Wyse is not alone in singing this tune, McIsaac added, because application streaming was also being pushed by Microsoft (following its acquisition of Softricity) and Citrix. In the case of Microsoft, application virtualisation and streaming functionality have been added to its virtualisation and management offerings thanks to the technology scoop.

Market taking shape
According to Microsoft, the acquisition of Softricity helps its customers reduce costly application management processes, accelerate application and operating system deployments, and create a foundation for a software services infrastructure.

"Citrix has also made a big dent in the application streaming market," McIsaac said. "They have come out with Tarpon, which is part of Presentation Server 4.5." "The big three are Wyse, Microsoft and Citrix. There are a couple of other players, like Altiris," he said. Altiris has partnered with Appstream in a bid to offer a full solution.

"It's early days in the market but we'll start to see leaders emerge," he said. "The traditional desktop model will move towards application streaming over the next six years. We're moving slowly towards it, but VARs need to understand the technology now and know how to sell it."

While streaming is set for mainstream adoption, desktop virtualisation is another story. "I don't believe it will be a big deal," McIsaac said. "It makes sense where Citrix doesn't work.

"Virtualisation makes much more sense on the server side, and is a great market, so forget about VDI. Virtualisation on servers is good, so people assume it must be good on the desktop.

People think the magic pixie dust will be sprinkled on the desktop."

Shared services

IBRS analyst, Dr Kevin McIsaac, said the shared services approach was a good selling opportunity and a good business model for partners dabbling in the thin computing arena. Managed services provider, BlueFire, is a prime example of a company delivering centrally managed desktops for a monthly user fee. It is using Wyse thin clients with VMware desktop virtualisation to provide a managed desktop.

The centralised computing model drove down management costs, which was attractive to SMB customers, managing director, Jason Serda, said. By using virtualisation and thin clients, the company can offer IT department functionality, full security and disaster recovery at a lower cost. The service is designed for companies with 15-500 users.

"SMB customers are very receptive to it, and don't mind giving up some control because there are a lot of checks and balances to make sure they are comfortable. We essentially play an outsourced CIO role," he said.

"It is ideal for those that don't want the high cost overhead of their own data centre, yet want to have full access to Windows XP."

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