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The future of desktop virtualization: Running desktops on the client (gasp!)

Contrary to some beliefs, operating a desktop client device is desktop virtualization, and running copies of Windows locally on client devices has several big advantages.

When most people think of desktop virtualization, they think of virtual desktop infrastructure. In other words, they think about using a thin client to connect to a virtual machine running Windows XP on a remote host.

But on, we've been writing from Day One that virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is only one type of desktop virtualization. Other types include Terminal Server, OS streaming, client hypervisors and on-demand desktop creation.

In this week's column, I'd like to focus on these other types of desktop virtualization, specifically those that end up with copies of Windows running on the client device.

Some readers may immediately think, "What? Running a desktop on a client device is not 'desktop virtualization' -- it's just the way it's always been!"

While this might seem true at first, step back and take a minute to think about what exactly desktop virtualization is.

If virtualization is about separating the physical from the logical, then desktop virtualization is really about separating the physical client device from the management of the copy of Windows that it runs.

In other words, if a client does a network boot and runs a copy of Windows from a virtual hard disk (VHD) file sitting on a server, then that desktop's virtualized! An admin can simply update the central VHD file, and -- BAM! -- the user gets the newest image the next time he boots.

The same can be said for a client hypervisor. If I can stream down a new disk image to a client that the user can boot, then I've effectively separated the management of Windows on that client from the physical client.

So why does this matter?

Simple. There are several big advantages to running copies of Windows locally on client devices.

  1. When I'm running Windows locally on my client device, I don't have to worry about the quality of my remote display protocol or how I'll handle multimedia. (I'll just keep doing it the way I've been doing it for the past decade, thank you!)
  2. I don't have to worry about server sizing or try to figure out how many virtual machines I can run on a certain host. I can leverage the processing power I've already bought and paid for in the form of all those CPUs in my desktops and laptops out in the field.
  3. When I run my copy of Windows locally, I can still use it when I'm disconnected from the network. (A novel idea!)

There are some scenarios where data center-hosted desktops make sense (such as security and compliance, or access from slow connections) and other scenarios where running the desktop at the desktop make sense.

At the end of the day, we'll all have desktops running both centrally and locally, but they'll all be managed centrally and separately from the devices our users connect from.

And this is all "desktop virtualization."

Brian Madden, Independent Industry Analyst and Blogger
Brian Madden is known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical, fiercely independent desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and over 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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