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Workspace focus splits virtualization market

The once-stable virtualization market is changing as some vendors begin to think more about workspaces. In this Q&A, IDC's Shannon Kalvar talks about what it all means.

The virtual client computing market is in the midst of change not seen in years, according to IDC research manager Shannon Kalvar.

Kalvar authored IDC's "Virtual Client Computing 2019-2020 Vendor Assessment," which was published this month. He said the desktop virtualization market is facing a shakeup after a long period of stability. Some vendors are shifting their focus away from traditional virtualization such as simply hosting a desktop or application on a server to a reimagining of the workspace, using such tools as micro apps to simplify an employee's digital workflow.

In this Q&A, Kalvar talks about this shift and explains why there's now a fork in the VCC market.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How is the virtualization market changing?

Shannon Kalvar: If you look at the market, we're talking about technologies we've had for a very long time, technologies we've been refining for a very long time. They have a stable set of use cases, and that's led to a market that has had decent but stable growth. We know what we can do in virtual client computing, and we're actually very good at it.

There was a little tremble in the market when it looked like it would accelerate with the move to cloud computing. [That] really didn't make that big a difference.

But now, we're starting to see a considerable difference in vendors, we're starting to see changes in the way people are marketing these technologies and we're starting to see shifts in the way end users are deploying these technologies. That has been really kind of fascinating.

What's led to those shifts?

Shannon Kalvar, IDC research managerShannon Kalvar

Kalvar: There are a couple of pieces. We've talked and talked and talked about mobile offices and the future of work involving infinitely configurable workspaces. I don't know if you've studied the history of the cubicle, but the cubicle was designed to be a flexible workspace. That's not what happened. We're finally, now, to the point where that's true. We are no longer just talking about [configurable workspaces] -- we're doing it.

We've picked up a new set of use cases: what we're now calling the workspace. It's the idea that there are too many apps, there's too much email, there are too many interruptions, there's too much context switching for a human being to be effective during the day. Depending on who you believe, that could be 60% to 80% of your day -- managing context switching.

You have vendors who are tightly focused on providing those original use cases to a broader audience, and then you have vendors that are able to do that, but their focus is on that workspace experience.

You've spoken about a split in the market. Are you referring to a split between workspaces and traditional virtualization?

Kalvar: Yes. It's easy to make a value judgment about that, but here's the thing: We still need that traditional virtualization. There's a reason we've used the tech for so long; it's not like it's going away. And there is plenty of opportunity left in the market.

But there's also this breakthrough, where you're going to see companies that use their virtualization technology to primarily emphasize control over the workspace. You can already start to see that play out as they talk about their strategies and in their marketing campaigns.

Do you believe this split will lead to two separate markets?

Kalvar: The data doesn't point one way or another just yet. It's my belief that we'll eventually have to track workspace slightly differently than VCC. I'm not sure it's a different market, but it may be a different way of cutting the market.

How do you see this affecting those who have to choose and administer these solutions?

Kalvar: You will have to select your strategic partners by answering a series of questions. The more detailed those questions get, the [clearer] it's going to be which vendor will meet your needs.

If your need is to revolutionize your workspace and change the way you enable behavior, that is very different from a company that can look you in the eye and say, 'Half my budget is IT people, and I need to manage how they control operational resources better than I do today.'

Formerly, we could just ask that as, 'Do I need to virtualize this desktop or not?' and you'd get slightly different answers. We're starting to see how that could be answered very differently.

This change has just hit the market maybe last year, and this is the kind of market change that takes maybe a decade to play out.

These are sticky technologies; once you've got them, they're embedded. Once you make your choices, you're going to have them for a long time. So, this is a critical period if you're thinking about, 'How do I need to transform my company? What is it that I really need to do?'

You've got to be thinking not about [just] today. If [you're] going to have this stuff for 10 years and [you] are being asked to enable certain key behaviors, how do [you] do that?

What is the significance of the market change you mentioned?

Kalvar: It is fascinating when a core technology market like this begins to revolutionize and change. Although we like to think of these technologies as leaders in change, they're really very reactive.

These are not fads. You can't just say, 'Oh, we're just going to turn everything purple today.' This stuff has to work, work well and work stably for decades.

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