PC virtualisation allows multiple operating systems to be run on a single physical PC simultaneously -- effectively separating software from the underlying hardware.
If it lives up to its potential, the impact of this technology could be huge, according to Gartner. Any PC can be made to look the same to enterprise applications, irrespective of who made it and which OS is loaded as the host system, the analyst claims. The ramifications for Microsoft and the rest of PC industry are obvious.
ZDNet UK spoke to Brian Gammage, vice president and research leader at Gartner, about how virtualisation could revolutionise the PC industry, removing all scope for product differentiation and forcing vendors to compete on service and price.
Who is actually using this kind of virtual PC technology today?
It's been around for a while and it's in use in niche and technical applications. What is really changing is that it's now being deployed. The key player in terms of adoption are in the software industry, where the scenario is that you can run a machine that takes out hardware dependencies, and you can run separate windows to write code and test it.
We also see it in use by multiple-system users, people who would have multiple types of systems, such as traders in financial services. One early adopter in the USA is the National Security Administration (NSA) -- they have consolidated equipment that they definitely don't want overlapping.
I have also begun to see these technologies used by organisations looking to outsource. VMWare has a case study about one of the biggest insurers who use it to separate out the presentation layer in Windows and serve that to people outside the company with whom they have an outsourcing contract.
Microsoft has a key role to play here. What impact will virtualisation have on its software licensing model?
Microsoft bought Connectix because it wanted the technology. As software gets more complex migration costs go up, and in a saturated market anything that delays or inhibits replacement is a market limiter. Microsoft's big interest is virtualisation allows you to move to the new. You have to balance that against the licensing paradigm.