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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Lab Love them or loathe them, desktops are integral to IT service delivery. They are the most common point of access for users, and their performance has a disproportionately high bearing on user satisfaction and the perception of IT generally.

Beyond this, we know from research that allowing the desktop environment to drift and become too out of date has significant cost and risk implications, as well as representing a huge distraction to IT staff. Whichever way you look at it, the way in which the desktop is provisioned and managed is something to be taken seriously.

One of the bigger 'project' challenges with desktop IT is the refresh cycle. The economic downturn and the negative reception to Windows Vista led many organisations to put their normal desktop modernisation and refresh cycles on hold, often for a year or more. However, as economic conditions improve and the positive response to Windows 7 neutralises the Vista effect, it's only natural that desktop modernisation will find itself back on the agenda. This time around things might be different. Perhaps.

With a whole bunch of 'new' delivery solutions that have been knocking around the edges of IT for a while becoming mainstream ready, there are now quite a few viable alternatives to simply moving forward with the next iteration of the Windows 'fat client' desktop. Needless to say, the use of virtualisation technology features prominently in many of them, whether we think of thin clients or client hypervisors to name but two of the 'new' choices.

If you are starting to investigate alternative options (or 'been there done that'), an observation we'd like to test is that in our view, there is no single approach, whether traditional desktop or a virtualised model, which will be appropriate to solve all your business and end user requirements. Furthermore, some of the alternatives to traditionally administered desktops mean that one size no longer has to fit all.

All things being equal, experience tells us that most businesses could be best served by a blend of desktop delivery mechanisms. As well as it being worth getting up to speed on the range of technology options, it is also important to segment and understand your users with regards to their real and perceived needs and constraints.

It’s very unlikely that we’ve seen the end of development in this area yet. New combinations and possibilities are emerging all the time, from virtual desktops on USB sticks, to streaming of encrypted VMs which leave no trace should the device be lost or stolen. With form factors/client devices also evolving this is an area where we're going to see lots more choice emerging in the short and medium term.

In fact, the very way we think about client computing may need to change. Or will it? One of the great things about IT is that there are always many different ways to address a problem or requirement. But just because new choices or alternatives emerge, doesn't mean we'll all rush out and try them.

Given the hassle that desktops cause you today, does 'the evolution' feel very much like more of the same to you, or do you think we'll look back on those quaint desktops as a bit of an anachronism in 20 years time? As always we'd love to hear from you. ®

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