Dell CEO Michael Dell contends that mobile devices will never kill the PC. Instead, he envisions a future where users own an increasing number and variety of devices, each capable of looking like the other via desktop virtualisation, served by virtual networks and the cloud.
"What's converging is the data, not the device," Dell told attendees of the Citrix Synergy user conference in San Francisco during a keynote speech on Thursday. "It's not clear that one device replaces another."
He believes that each user will have many devices, each geared for a specific task. "Some are better for carrying with you. Others are for consuming content, others are better for creating content." This runs counter to the idea that a smartphone or other mobile device will eventually become the multi-function computer of choice for work, communication, social networking and entertainment. Since 2008, users have purchased about a quarter of a billion smartphones, reports market research firm Strategy Analytics. Many of them use their smartphone for traditional PC work tasks, be it composing a document or sending e-mail.
Yet, Dell said that the iPad confirms his view that users will want more devices, all accessing the same data (and even, perhaps the same virtual desktop).
"There is an application infrastructure growing up significantly around devices like the iPad. Does this create new uses, new demand, or does it replace something else? Seem to me it creates new uses," Dell said.
To a mixture of ahs and titters from attendees, he showed off a prototype of Dell's Android Streak smartphone. His Streak was equipped with a Citrix receiver that allowed him a choice of several desktop environments, as well as native Android apps and social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter. The Streak will be available next month in Europe from Telefónica O2 and from AT&T in the summer in the United States. Some attendees loved the device. Others in the audience seemed to feel that an Android phone from Dell, Citrix equipped or not, is too little, too late to compete with the iPhone or BlackBerry.
But Dell's smartphone is only the tip of the virtualised iceberg. Dell also announced that Citrix's XenClient technology introduced by Citrix on Wednesday will soon be certified and available for Dell Latitude laptops and OptiPlex desktop client systems.
"When it comes to desktop virtualisation, some people say, Dell, you're a PC guy, so you don't want this," Dell said. "But when something comes along that is very valuable for customers, if you stand in the way, you do so at your own peril. Server virtualisation, client virtualisation -- we embrace them.”
That statement may have been a thinly veiled reference to Microsoft. It's true that Microsoft and Citrix collaborate closely on virtualisation. Microsoft even announced at the Citrix show that the next version of its System Center, due out in 2011, will manage Citrix's hypervisor, XenServer. Yet on the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) side, Microsoft's licensing policies have made desktop virtualisation for Windows machines more expensive for many organisations than buying a new Windows machine. Citrix offers per-user or per device licenses. A user with multiple devices can access a Citrix desktop on any of them.
Microsoft requires a Windows licence for each device, and doesn't offer user licensing. (However, Microsoft officials say that they have enterprises licenses that can more or less function like user licenses).
Microsoft also recently softened its stance on Windows VDI licensing. Users with a Software Assurance contract can opt to move device licences to virtualised machines.
Microsoft joins Dell and Citrix in the vision that desktop virtualisation will become increasingly attractive. As users adopt Windows 7, increasing numbers of them are looking at some form of desktop virtualisation, says Brad Anderson, general manager of the Management and Solutions Division for Microsoft.
In his world view, desktop virtualisation can be accomplished a variety of ways, including full VDI, application virtualisation and session virtualisation. This means that a user's typical objections - fear of losing connectivity via the WAN, security, poor performance, printer/driver issues - can be more easily addressed.
Dell said that new storage technologies are allowing a better ratio of virtual users to server, which drastically increases VDI's ROI. Today's typical spinning disk storage array might be capable of supporting 100 to 150 VDI images. But new array technologies, such as iSCSI solid state disks used, for instance, with Dell's newest EqualLogic arrays, will be able to support 300 or 350 to 1. "The ROI for VDI is higher as servers increase density of VDI on disks," Dell said.
Others agree that the density of users to services has been one factor keeping VDI from adoption. Rand Morimoto, president of systems integrator CCO, says that when a company is serving the same desktop image to devices, ("session-based" remote desktops) via Citrix or Microsoft's Terminal Services, user-to-server density can be as high as 200 to 1. But as soon as IT tries to deliver unique, customised desktops to each user, the density ratio drops to 30 or 40 users to 1.
He says that those who sell servers love to preach the merits of full VDI. In his experience, however, a hybrid approach is the most cost effective, because in many companies, most individual workers don't need a fully customisable virtual desktop.
"When remote desktop services make sense in the organisation, then VDI is for the 5% to 10% of the users that have unique client needs (i.e. accounting, HR)," he says.
It is possible with Microsoft technologies today to provide a single entry point for all thin clients and then redirect users to a non-customisable session-based desktop, or a full VDI session, based on the individual user account policy. This would be done with Systems Center identity management tools, coupled with a Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack subscription.
Microsoft last month released the beta of Windows Intune, a cloud-based tool that manages desktops for midsised businesses. With it, for the first time, the company is making its desktop virtulisation tools, MDOP, available to customers that do not have a Software Assurance license..