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Why changing application delivery is so hard

IT shops want more efficient ways to deliver apps and manage end points. There are some promising technologies, but it's still early days and there is no clear vision on how to get the job done.

CHICAGO – IT managers and technical experts understand that the future of the business desktop and means of application access is changing. But just how that will happen and when that will happen is as clear as mud.

At BriForum, a conference devoted to emerging virtual desktop technology, here this week, IT professionals struggled to frame the debate on just how application access will move from today's client server architecture to one where the desktop blends IT services, and everything in between.

With vectors like Moore's Law, cheap storage and huge amounts of bandwidth, IT shops will have the power to do tomorrow what is expensive or impossible to do today. Where today the desktop might be viewed as hardware, tomorrow it is a pane of glass from which to view applications, and the stack is fungible, said Chetan Venkatesh, CEO of Atlantis Computing, which makes virtualization software for desktops and servers.

"Technologies like [virtual desktop infrastructure] and application virtualization are evolutionary steps," Venkatesh said. "There is a lot of growth [in these technologies] yet, but VDI is a blip in the path forward."

Over the next five years, applications will take center stage and no one will care about pipes and plumbing, Venkatesh said. "VDI, Terminal Services, Type 1 and Type 2 hypervisors are just processes that won't matter."

The VDI blip could drag on a bit

Before application services become reality, however, there is a lot that must happen. IT shops continue to deal with tight budgets, and many are like Doug Flint, information systems manager at the Housing Authority, a state housing agency located in Albuquerque, N.M. Flint, is just starting to evaluate VDI for his office of 100 desktops.

Flint said he was testing products, including VMware Inc.'s View, and has evaluated products from Ringcube Technologies Inc. and Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenDesktop. The company recently signed an enterprise agreement with Microsoft and is also looking forward to reviewing Microsoft's own virtual desktop products.

"I can see a time when we have no fat clients," he said. "They will go away by attrition."

At the conference, there are desktop virtualization products that isolate user data, applications and user personalities. Some IT experts say that VDI may even have entered the version 2.0 stage of its evolution, which might make it acceptable to a wider audience naturally fearful of emerging technology. But, for many, "It will be hard to break out of the Microsoft paradigm because it's so comfortable," the architect said. "[VDI] is only starting to get recognition in the corporate environment."

One technology can't fit all

One reason for customer confusion today is that vendors like to pit technologies against each other, as if one will overtake the other. Instead, as is typical, most will coexist. "Diversity of products is important," said Bob Deleeck, a consultant and architect at Raido, an Antwerp, Belgium-based consulting firm. "You will need a palette of solutions. And many customers today are not aware of the options that are out there."

But also, many of today's VDI products are not completely ready to fully tackle the job they are intended for.

"The whole VDI story -- it's got a lot of possibilities but a lot of people see the path and want to go three steps further," Deleek said. "If VDI is at Version 2.0, then it will be VDI 3.0 or 4.0 before it will be usable."

Some experts said they believe that VDI and new application delivery methods will only enhance what exists today. Thin client will become more robust and easier to manage. VDI will evolve. It takes a lot of energy, effort and planning to transfer to a new platform and the transitioning is a long process. Add to that people's confusion, lack of budget and the fact that it's unlikely that enterprises will jump to Windows 7 before the first service pack.

But IT shops are looking at their application strategy to determine what they can do to make money in their business. "Windows 7 is important but end users don't care if it's Windows 7 or XP," Deleek said. "It's all about the apps."

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