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Virtual app and virtual desktop access gains mobile traction

Larger screens and better technology, including built-in 4G, are big reasons why VDI on mobile devices is becoming more realistic than ever. Browser-based clients also play role.

Virtual desktops and applications are commonplace in many organizations, but the technology has struggled to catch on with mobile users.

Traditionally, mobile devices were just too small for virtual desktop access. Early smartphone screens were little, so if users did access virtual desktops with their smartphones, the interface was unwieldy. They were constantly scrolling just to see everything on the screen.

Well, times have changed, thanks to the rise of larger phones, tablets and browser-based virtual resource delivery -- not to mention the advent of mobile thin and zero clients. Now mobile virtual application and virtual desktop access is more viable.

How mobility and virtualization are coming together

There have been a lot of technological advancements in everything from the devices users work with to the remote display technologies administrators use to deliver virtual resources. From a device standpoint, screens are larger and have better resolution than ever, so full virtual desktop access is easier for mobile users. And most devices come with 4G built-in, which means users can connect to virtual resources without a Wi-Fi connection.

The big problem with mobile thin clients is that despite their name, they aren't really all that mobile.

Several products also aim to improve the mobile virtual desktop experience. On the remote display front, VMware designed Blast Extreme with mobile devices in mind. The protocol uses graphics processing units rather than CPU to process graphics, which is less of a strain on device batteries.

IT administrators can push individual apps to users' devices with tools such as Citrix XenApp, Microsoft App-V and VMware ThinApp instead of having to deliver full desktops. In addition, suites such as Citrix Cloud and VMware Workspace One combine desktop and app virtualization with enterprise mobility management, giving admins a single location to manage virtual and native mobile apps.

How browser-based clients fit into the equation

In the sea of devices and operating systems that make up most organizations these days, web browsers represent the common denominator. Thanks to browser-based virtualization clients, it doesn't matter if a user is working with Windows 10 on a traditional PC or Apple iOS on an iPhone, as long as he has a browser, he can reach his virtual resources.

The browser-based approach also makes life easier for admins dealing with virtual apps, because they only have to worry about updating workers' browsers rather than updating the multitude of devices they use.

In addition, any users who need to access multiple virtual desktops can easily do so with browser-based virtualization because they can open one desktop in one window and another desktop in a second window. They can then flip back and forth the same way they would between browser tabs.

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What about mobile thin and zero clients?

Another option is to use thin clients. HP Inc., IGEL and Dell Wyse all offer their own lines of mobile thin clients. The big problem with mobile thin clients is that despite their name, they aren't really all that mobile because they come with a standard laptop body. They are obviously more portable than a desktop PC, but they cannot compare to a smartphone, 2-in-1 or tablet.

Mobile zero clients are easier to manage than thin clients because they have fewer settings, and remote desktops appear as if they run locally which makes everything straightforward for users. Maybe most importantly, neither data nor apps live on zero clients.

The clean slate nature and portability of zero clients makes it seem like they'd be perfect for mobile users. Traditional zero clients, however, do not come with Wi-Fi capabilities so they're not particularly useful to users who need to connect to wireless internet on the go.

As a result, the mobile zero client market is still in its infancy because there simply aren't that many products that fit the bill. As of now Toshiba and NCS Technologies Inc. are the only vendors that offer products categorized as mobile zero clients with Wi-Fi capabilities. Even with Wi-Fi in place, admins must install local browsers on users' mobile zero clients so they can access the internet.

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