These are a few key reasons that Desktop Virtualization or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is such an important driver currently and how to tell in the future if it is a relevant delivery option.

  • Minimum device resources in multiple device tiers drive Virtual Desktops
  • Low cost per device tier drive Virtual Desktops.
  • Ubiquity of Internet connectivity drives Virtual Desktops.
  • More base Hardware compared to operating system base requirements drive Virtual Desktops.
  • Operating system hardware independence, configuration simplicity, and inverse size compared to local storage cost/size drive Virtual Desktops.
  • Application hardware independence, configuration simplicity, and the size compared to local storage cost/size drive Virtual Desktops.
  • Data file size and its inverse relationship to network cost/throughput drive

Virtual Desktops. We have reached an interesting point where each of these relationships makes Desktop virtualization appealing. First, let’s look at the devices.

Minimum device resources in each device tier and the cost–tier relationship.

The first part is “Minimum device resources in multiple device tiers drive Virtual Desktops.” What is a standard set of resources for a commonly used compute device available at a given time? The monitor and keyboard met minimum standards to present applications and desktops for decades – in the workplace compute device. The workplace compute device is the first tier. Computing was subsidized by the workplace. Mobility through “luggable” devices or sacrifice of compute power (desktop replacement laptops or not) is the next tier. There is a blurring of the lines between the laptop and tablet and the next tier. Modern form factor of mobile devices, PDA’s Newton, Palm, Windows CE etc. are the next tier. Phone evolution from voice communication only to voice plus data devices are the current tier. Only the future will tell if the push into TV’s (again… see WebTV) and other non-traditional compute devices will become compute devices.

Minimum device resources in multiple device tiers drive Virtual Desktops because more devices crave users as the users crave their access to data, applications and desktops. The second part is the cost-tier relationship. 1968 and Data General brought the $8,000 Nova. 1976 and Apple brought the $500 Apple I. 1976 also brought the Cray I. 1977 and Tandy brought the $599 TRS-80. 1978 and Digital Equipment brought the VAX 11/780. 1981 and Osborne brought the $1795 and 24 pound luggable Osbourne I. The workplace compute device was a $1,400 dollar investment in computing in 1983 ($2,970 in 2010 dollars, 417.9 minimum wage hours, just over 10.5 weeks minimum wage pay). Compute device price and size shrinking to make a $595 Commodore 64 in 1982 ($1,340 2010 dollars). High performance computing arrived in 1984 with IBM’s PC-AT at $4,000. 1988 and Steve Job’s brought the NeXT at $6,500. The 1990’s brought college student loan funded home computers. A workforce that had a workplace compute device, and possibly a home compute device. The 1990’s also brought what we would currently recognize as a laptop as a more common compute device. Even as Citrix was founded in 1989, a compute device to use as a client was far from ubiquitous. The 1990’s continued to drop costs and drive home adoption. The true change came as the first commercially subsidized compute devices arrived with the Toshiba 2032 running Windows CE at a cost of $800 minus cellular carrier subsidy in 2002.

Low cost per tier drive Virtual Desktops because lower costs allow more users to afford more devices. Ubiquity of Internet connectivity drives Virtual Desktops. Once the device barrier is broken and devices are ubiquitous, the connectivity must be ubiquitous to drive Virtual Desktops. Devices without connectivity are the offline computing before the AOL or CompuServe connection.

Ubiquity of internet drives the usefulness of Virtual Desktops.

More base Hardware compared to operating system base requirements drive Virtual Desktops because as base hardware improves and outpaces the base operating system needs, it drives the creation of a lower priced, lower power consuming hardware tier underneath. Even Steve Job’s NeXT was early to the game with object oriented programming and more efficient communication and storage methods. But his Operating System had outpaced the base hardware available to support it. A following hardware version would have allowed for the OS to reach its full potential. As hardware capacity outpaces the OS, it drives Desktop Virtualization.

Operating system hardware independence, configuration simplicity, and inverse size compared to local storage cost/size drive Virtual Desktops. This is similar in behavior to the last point. When the OS barely runs on a given set of hardware, virtualization is not the result. A 2011 desktop can be built with 3 or 4 processor cores, 8-24 GB of RAM and multi TB of storage at a modest cost (Single disk storage at $50/TB with $99 2TB drives) A modest system of this type can drive local Desktop Virtualization at 24x local desktops at 1 GB RAM and 6-8 desktops per core! And that is at a desktop hardware level. How would you compare a 1977 $500 TRS-80 to a 2011 $3,499 8-core Mac Pro today? (Same GDP per capita!)

Application hardware independence, configuration simplicity, and the size compared to local storage cost/size drive Virtual Desktops because application are no longer tied to hardware and a hypervisor layer works.

Data file size and its inverse relationship to network cost/throughput drive Virtual Desktops because of the way it no longer matters in time or convenience to store files locally. Cloud based storage, inter-cloud communication, or even cloud to local communication with ease and speed make the location of application data superfluous.

What is called the minimum resource in many devices is capable of supporting a virtualized or local desktop. The desktop and laptop tiers have converged. The early 1980’s meant an IBM PC that had a color screen and could connect to a TV. The Compaq and IBM 25 pound “luggables” of the ‘80’s and their 9” monochrome screens. In the 1990’s, laptops were like a desktop-lite version of hardware. In fact at that time, you would choose to make compromises and do without in terms of hardware. Even in the case of the “desktop replacements” there was compromise at least in terms of cost. Now desktop or laptop hardware have a huge overlap whose decision points are all on the budget and preferences of the consumer. Either way, laptop or desktop across both of their range will have the physical resources to power up and present a desktop. Take a step down to the tablet form factor. The ‘80’s Day-Timer leather bound notebook or business cards, contact and to-do lists have given way to the ‘10’s tablets. Their $100 three-ring binder or now their Man-purse with their tablet or slate could mark a person of business. Another step down and the legend of the little black book, and the Moleskine, the ‘90’s Palm Pilot’s and the ‘00’s Blackberry’s, and now iOS and Android. Two decades of ICA and now HDX client capable (O.K. 6-ish years but both the decades have a device with a client) devices. Look at the phones of today where it barely turns your head to see a dual-core phone. How long ago did you get your first dual core laptop or desktop? As we start to look at the tablet/ slate docking stations and the “Nirvana Phone” connection to desktop monitors, keyboard and mouse we really can see that we have come a long way from:

1980 – I know a kid that goes to a computer lab.

1990 – We have computers at work.

2000 – We have a computer at home.

2010 – I can’t throw a rock without everyone posting it on YouTube from his or her phone. Of course we have a computer and the kids have one and our console games have Internet access. We are living in in a time where everybody has a device ON THEIR PERSON that is capable of accessing the Internet and displaying a desktop. A manufacturer is taking some heat for putting full Windows 7 on their dual core phone. Computing is not a question of when, where, or how. The question is which of my many devices at my disposal will be the most comfortable to compute from for this task?

• Ubiquity of Internet connectivity. I think that this is pretty much self-explanatory. The interesting point is how internet access has bled through to devices that were un-imaginable years ago. From a desktop or laptop that needed an external token-ring adapter or an external modem. Modems coming standard, then 10 meg, then 100 meg, now 1 Gig at home and 10 Gig in the datacenter. Any handheld device that doesn’t have a cellular connection has wi-fi. In the past a book only needed to be under a lamp. Now we expect our e-readers to have wireless and cellular access. Our cars can have cellular access to remote assistance as well as tracking or aftermarket retrofitted cellular rear-view mirrors from On-Star. Look at the refrigerators with internet access, my Schlage-link front door lock, and home lights and cameras, our books, our watches, and even our shoes have ability to transmit data. As data transmission capabilities reach the most mundane of objects through Arduino chips and wireless networks more capabilities will continue to seep up the device food-chain.

• Hardware relationship to operating system base requirements. How much of the hardware available is needed to run the operating system? Do you remember the “turbo” button? How about the math co-processor? When was the last time you actually worried about the ability of new hardware to run the current OS? There was a time that you might have to limp along playing solitaire until you could upgrade your machine to run the apps you wanted. Even the most meager desktop or laptop is not slow, it is some form of space or power saving feature set. We live in a time where the OS is only a small subset of the physical resources utilized by the powerhouse machines we buy today.

• Operating system hardware dependence, configuration complexity, and size compared to local storage cost/size. Even when we consider the extremes of OS requirements type 1 local hypervisors, Intel VT-x, VT-d, or AMD-V is not exactly the extremes of the gaming machine market. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had one at arm’s reach already. The days of OS’s having problems installing a base operating system are pretty uncommon. PC repair is still a marketable skill, but OS installs can be handled by anyone that can recognize the “Next” button. I bring up storage cost and size because the accumulation of music, and other media was the old reason to scramble to reinstall an OS to add a new drive with more space to accommodate data. I’m in no way trying to say that the current 3TB drives are un-fillable, but I am saying that the 8-16 GB of OS post install is a tiny percentage of space compared to the KB sized texts, MB sized music and images, and GB sized movies. 490-something movies plus operating system? Doesn’t that sound like a lot of stuff?

• Application hardware dependence, configuration complexity, and the size compared to local storage cost/size. While applications can require their own hardware, cameras, microphones etc., the “AppStores” and internet downloads make the installations trivial. Even large application installs like office productivity apps do not consume a significant portion of the local disk anymore.

• Data file size and its relationship to network cost/throughput. The interesting part of this is that as the ability of the network to transfer data increases the ability to synchronize data between datacenter and desktop and cloud. The small document size to availability of ubiquitous bandwidth allows you documents to follow you to any device or location.

Why are these details important?

The device you need to display a desktop is at your fingertips. In fact you probably always have a device at home, work, in a bag, in your pocket, or at a kiosk nearby to get to a desktop. Even if there was no device, how long would it take to get to a store with one? An electronics store, big-box store, cell phone outlet, or even bookstore has a device that you can access the internet. A device to access the internet that is always there from a wi-fi hotspot, cellular, or even dial-up if you can find a modem. You have plenty of hardware resources; plenty of storage, and plenty of bandwidth of access your files from anywhere using any application installed on any OS located anywhere.

The original Any, Any, Any has become an ANY to the 5th power. Any work device, Any home device, Any Mobile device has become Any Work, Any Home, Any Laptop, Any Tablet, and any Mobile device. The usefulness of a virtualized desktop is achievable today via your pocket (cell phone). As you install your Citrix Receiver on your rooted Android e-reader tomorrow, imagine the time traveler explaining it to Gutenberg. It is almost as hard to explain the computer, as it is to explain the access through the e-reader evolved mass-produced book. How does the time traveler explain to Bill Bowerman founder of Nike that performance data transmitted out of sensors in the shoes evolved from the rubber soles he molded from a waffle iron? What happens when tomorrow’s dual core shoes that have the physical resources to install a Citrix Receiver are the norm the day after tomorrow?

Device tiers, price of multiple devices, Internet everywhere, hardware always has enough power to support the OS, large and cheap storage, Application hardware independence, and data files easily transmitted yield today’s Virtual Desktops. The future of Virtual Desktops is based on that similar evolutionary path of the Cloud to make the infrastructure that much more efficient, inexpensive, and ubiquitous.