You might think Web applications will take over enterprise computing someday, but don't make the mistake of assuming that means VDI will go away.
If you -- like me -- have a little bit of grey hair, you may remember 1999 (the year, not the song). That was when I was first told that PC-based applications were going away and that Web-delivered applications were the future. Someone told me this as I was deploying an early Citrix MetaFrame environment to allow a remote PC to access an application in the data center.
Back then, people thought infrastructures like that would be a temporary fix until applications were written for Web browsers. A dozen years later, we are running the next generation of that Citrix MetaFrame environment: virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Many IT pros still see deploying VDI as a temporary solution until Web apps take the place of Windows applications. But is it right to think that Web apps will really remove the requirement to run desktops in a data center?
Why Web apps aren't the answer to all application problems
There has definitely been a lot of progress on Web apps; in 1999 the groundbreaking Netscape browser had recently been open sourced. That project would become the Firefox browser we know today. Websites were static HTML, but today there's HTML 5 and plenty of solid apps. Most people use Web apps every day, including email, file syncing and sharing, as well as social media. Although most workers in 2013 still use a desktop operating system for business, they may also have a mobile device with access to a lot of the same information -- another huge change from 1999.
Still, there are a lot of reasons to continue using PC-based applications. Some of the Citrix servers I installed in the 1990s were to deal with transcontinental latency, making database applications work at a reasonable speed. A well-designed Web app should have allowed those Citrix servers to be retired, but that never happened.
Today, it seems that a data center-based desktop isn't actually the best solution to problems we have with applications and app deployment. It definitely can be in some cases, but rather than being about the architecture or requirements of applications, deploying VDI is more commonly about the business environment or the way staff work.
A lot of virtual deployments were about keeping critical data inside the data center, delivering secure access over the Internet or allowing staff to use multiple devices. These uses weren't about application delivery but about the user or the data -- and those reasons are still the main factors for deploying VDI. Plus, even if an application is a Web app, the browser still runs in a desktop in the data center.
In the world of IT, where old systems are never shut down and continue to get used long after technology has left them behind, few organizations could move to an all Web and mobile app world in the next five years. Something -- or someone -- somewhere would still need a desktop, even if it's just to publish the company newsletter or do a decent job of printing documents.
Web apps are definitely here to stay and are extremely useful in many cases. Some lucky and very mobile people have completely replaced their desktop with Web apps delivered to a mobile device, but most users still need a desktop with a large screen, keyboard and mouse -- even if they use it to access a Web application.
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