As my career covering the technology sector goes on, I’m increasingly convinced there is rarely very much of anything new in IT; we may get new branding, a new pitch and some evolutionary advancements, but peer under the covers and the fundamental concepts remain the same.
That’s the thought I had last month while visiting Citrix Systems at their Santa Clara, Calif. offices for a briefing on the software vendor’s 2011 plans. Citrix has found success in recent years riding the virtualization wave, and an executive was discussing how it plans to support the ability to roll out its virtual Zen Desktops to any endpoint device, whether it’s a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
It was the phrase the executive used to describe the endpoints – thin devices – that made my ears perk up, because it’s eerily similar to what Citrix and others in the industry were pushing as the next big thing some years back: thin client computing. This was a model of computing using early virtual machine technology where end-users would either have a desktop terminal or a dummy PC that was served a virtual desktop from the server.
The advantages were compelling, and similar to the desktop virtualization pitch of today: easier administration and security, the ability to transfer the workload from the desktop PC to the server, delay or eliminate the need for PC refresh. The disadvantages, though, were stronger. It was primarily an apps-limited Linux-based environment being served-up, network infrastructure reliability was still a concern, and virtualization hadn’t yet taken flight. While there were some limited deployments – my library at Carleton University installed thin clients – “fat clients” still ruled the day.Today, though, call it desktop virtualization and, with some notable service improvements, Citrix is betting the market has caught up and is ready for the “thin device” model.
The biggest difference is that it’s now a full, familiar Windows-based environment being served-up, with all the apps a user is familiar with. Network infrastructure is now reliable enough to consider going virtual, with tools in place to enable offline working. But perhaps the biggest change in favour of this model is the increasing irrelevance of the endpoint. With people wanting to work anywhere, on any device, and IT not wanting to have to manage every endpoint, virtualizing the desktop makes sense for both users and IT managers.
The thin device model won’t be for everyone. But more than a decade after the first thin devices hit the market, it could finally be an idea that’s time has come. The more things change…