What is a desktop cloud?

Although there's no consensus on how to define "cloud desktop," find out how different people think of clouds and desktops and how that affects their perspective on virtualization.

If you thought virtualization was an overused buzzword then the term cloud probably drives you completely crazy!...

At this point, no one really agrees on what exactly cloud means, but that hasn't stopped folks from talking about "desktop clouds."

So this week, I'm going to attempt the impossible: define what a cloud desktop is.

First, let's take a stab at defining cloud. One of the things that make it hard to define is that the definition changes depending on your perspective. To some people, "the cloud" is synonymous with services provided by an outside company. Other people think in terms of client access, meaning they think the cloud is a service you can access from anywhere.

These varying ideas of what a cloud is lead to varying ideas of what a cloud desktop is. For some, a cloud desktop is a Windows desktop provided by an outside company, rather than delivered by the internal IT department. Vendors such as Desktone have built technologies that deliver these traditional Windows desktops from Desktone-hosted data centers to users no matter where they are. There are also more "classic" vendors in the style of application service providers such as NextDesktop that use the tried and true Terminal Services technology to deliver low-cost desktops across the Web.

Other people don't think of traditional Windows machines when they think of desktops. Think about it -- for the past 15 years, "the desktop" was Microsoft operating system installed on a computer, from which a user would access Windows applications. Taking that desktop to the cloud is easy enough to understand -- users access some form of Windows desktop via the Internet. While this desktop can be based on Terminal Server or a virtual desktop infrastructure, and it can be internal or external, everyone understands that it's a Windows (with a capital "W") desktop.

But what is a desktop?

What if your "desktop" was just a Web browser through which you accessed your documents, data, office applications, email and webpages? These so-called Internet desktops or browser desktops can legitimately be considered another form of cloud desktop. (Gabe Knuth did a write-up of these browser desktops for BrianMadden.com a few weeks ago, covering offerings from as G.ho.st, icloud, eyeos and Stoneware.)

So I'm not sure that we're any closer to defining the "desktop cloud" than when we started. I guess the bottom line is that when you hear the term "desktop cloud," there's not one specific technology or delivery model that applies. Anyone who wants to be a desktop cloud provider can be one. That can be internal or external, public or private, Windows- or Web-based.

So, um, yeah ... good luck with all that!

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog, BrianMadden.com, 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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