Windows 7, economic recovery put spotlight on client computing
Desktops may not be sexy but they are oh-so-important to many an enterprise. Freeform Dynamics' Martin Atherton tells you why the time is right to consider a client-side refresh.
IT is full of 'big ideas' like business process management, business intelligence and cloud computing which tend to clutter the airwaves and block out some of the more mundane areas of computing. Compared to such trendy areas, client-based computing appears distinctly un-sexy. Perhaps it's a case of familiarity breeds boredom as so many manage vast estates of desktops day in day out.
However, there are some very simple reasons why we should we care about this topic. Firstly: the desktop is integral to IT service delivery.
Secondly: as much as we see and hear about changes to working practices, the desktop computer is the most common point of access for users, and as such, its performance has a disproportionately high bearing on user satisfaction and their perception of IT. This is before we even think about the productivity benefits that desktops are designed to enable.
Beyond this, we know from our research at Freeform Dynamics that allowing the desktop environment to become too out of date has significant cost and risk implications, as well as representing a huge distraction to IT staff.
But why should we care about client computing now?
The economic downturn as well as the negative reception to Windows Vista led many businesses to hold off on desktop estate refreshes for a year or more. But the need to refresh didn't go away.
Moving into the here and now, the beginnings of an economic upturn combined with the enthusiastic response to Windows 7 put desktop modernisation back on the agenda.
Now is an appropriate time to consider all possible ways of meeting client computing needs looking forward - if you haven't started thinking along these lines already.
The timing is good because there is a lengthening list of alternatives to the straightforward, traditional refresh to consider - including using virtualisation technology.
Virtualisation is certainly a hard topic to ignore at the moment. Market rhetoric may give the impression that its current focal point - server consolidation/data centre optimisation - is a 'done deal' and the herd is moving on. We know this is not true. Our research shows that, for every vendor's reference client list, there are countless thousands of IT shops just getting their toes wet.
So how can virtualisation help us beyond our x86 server estates?
One of the biggest 'nexts' for virtualisation tech is how it can address the requirements of client side, or desktop computing, as businesses start thinking about upgrades and refreshes. Sure, the ability to deliver software and services to a desktop or other device using alternatives to traditionally administered Windows machines has been around for a long time - but it is still far from the norm.
There are plenty of ways to introduce virtualisation into the client domain.
If and when you do start to investigate options for a desktop refresh, do not to assume that a single approach, whether the traditional desktop or a virtualised model, will be appropriate to address all of your business and user requirements.
In fact, the best way to prepare yourself for appreciating what the different alternatives can bring to your business is to understand your own requirements first and foremost. Most organisations are probably best served by a blend of desktop set-ups, so as well as getting up to speed on the technology options, it is also important to analyse and segment your users and make sure you fully understand their needs and constraints.
That way, at least you can be secure in the knowledge that you have analysed a business need and are now looking for a solution - instead of surveying a range of solutions looking for a problem.
Martin Atherton is research director at analyst house Freeform Dynamics.