With everybody I speak to and in everything I read it is obvious to me that Windows 7 is the next major Windows desktop OS uplift that is around the corner. Good, bad or indifferent, I don’t think most people will argue that many people have skipped Vista, but clearly the sentiment is different with Windows 7. For years investments in desktop uplifts have been put off, and I believe that will change sooner than we expect. I’ve spoken to a number of key decision makers and ground floor engineers and consistently hear that many are actively planning how to adopt Windows 7 to replace what is now an old but good XP operating system. I hear talk of PC uplifts, application virtualization, compatibility, repackaging, systems management upgrades, the list goes on. I think great! Finally we are on the verge of an uplift that will allow us to move forward. Then I think back to my previous experiences with the realities of migrations and the debate over desktop virtualization.

It’s fascinating to see so much debate evolve over whether to adopt desktop virtualization or not. I wonder if the binary debate over desktop virtualization is causing artificial confusion as budgets for 2010 and early Windows 7 adoption start to be planned over the coming months. Does the broad desktop community really understand why some people are implementing desktop virtualization today? Are uninformed myths and legends being created? I believe so. Having lived through this, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

Back in 2004 is when I began my desktop virtualization journey. I already practiced and knew that remote desktops and applications with XenApp had been around for years, but I had some new use cases to solve for. I wanted to get around many of the constraints of a multi user operating system to enable better ‘session isolation’. With this capability my users would be able to connect to their remote desktop sessions from anywhere with a Desktop-like experience. I found that this ‘session mobility’ coupled with session isolation was well received by mobile users who wanted to travel and were frustrated with the old way due to the time it would take to log into desktops due to roaming profiles and login scripts. Session mobility enabled these users to be more agile so they could travel and make fast, light-weight connections back to their desktops. As this evolved, more light bulbs started to go off. What if large, high power desktops could be removed to enable more user density per floor and lower cooling costs? What if thinner greener buildings could be constructed? What if disaster recovery sites could become easier to maintain? Could central management of desktops enable more efficient support models? Could PC lifecycles be extended? Could this capability enable faster and cheaper expansion into new global markets? So much was possible with this new desktop capability, and really it was not that different from the traditional way of remote apps and desktops, just different in that session isolation was key to deliver a desktop like experience. In addition, the benefits far out weighed the constraints when thinking about the business opportunity, and knowing that things would continue to evolve.  

So heads spinning, ideas buzzing, all the what-if constraints started to be thought through. Very quickly when looking at how to solve this problem, the key issue at stake was what’s the best and most mature way to deliver the user experience. To cut a long story short, At the time ICA was the clear choice. So a trip to Citrix HQ was planned, arguments were had, this secret PortICA project was brought to my attention that had no use cases around it. A few months later, after a few drinks a few of us including Citrites were walking past Trinity church on Wall Street. Citrix at the time had an umbrella project called project Constellation, and there were three primary user types being thought of for this new desktop opportunity. “Bingo! we’ll call it project Trinity,” as a joke and it felt like it was a project Constellation theme. This is a true story, and it was just our internal fun name for the project. I couldn’t believe it when Citrix announced it at iForum. I was sitting at the back of the room with a huge grin. I remember the Customer Council sessions at that conference, and enquiries from the Marketing team that there may be religious reasons for this, if only they knew….. The rest is history, and today Trinity has evolved into XenDesktop.

So five years on, I see many customers that are thought leaders beginning to adopt this new model and many more people thinking about it or confused about the use cases. Now that Windows 7 is around the corner, I think the time is now to really sit down and understand the desktop virtualization opportunity, if you haven’t already. Understand your use cases, where it makes sense for you, where it doesn’t and the big picture. Keep in mind how the industry is investing to enable even more capabilities to drive new use cases and lower TCO. Windows 7 means a fresh opportunity to redefine the desktop after so long. Even in the current economic climate customers continue to invest in desktop virtualization, because they understand the strategic significance that greater flexibilty and agility brings today. Now that may not apply to every desktop environment today, but desktop investments are about to get a shot in the arm. I would hate to be in a position of having to go back asking for budget exceptions if I hadn’t thought about how desktop virtualization fits into my organization and invested in the wrong areas during upcoming refreshes.