Does desktop virtualisation need thin clients to work?

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The nature of the desktop is changing. Five years ago, the desktop or laptop PC was a permanent fixture on the corporate desktop. Today, things are shifting as organisations shift increasingly towards virtualised infrastructures. With that in mind, what client devices should organisations be considering?

Conventional wisdom has it that anyone with a virtualised infrastructure should go with a thin client  device on the desktop. However, that may not always be the wisest decision - at least, not in the first instance. Most organisations considering desktop virtualisation will already have a large base of traditional PCs. Why throw them out straightaway?

Running ‘thin on fat’ clients enables a company to postpone the capital investment in thin client devices for a while longer. The beauty of using full PCs as access devices for application virtualisation or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is that it dramatically reduces the hardware requirements. Because organisations won’t be running lots of applications alongside each other on the PCs, they can get away with existing hardware specifications for far longer. Instead of a three-year refresh cycle, it may be possible to get away with six.

As Microsoft introduces more desktop virtualization-specific features into Windows 7, it is also becoming easier to provide a suitable user experience using VDI on fat client devices.

As PCs start to die, it then becomes possible to replace them on an attritional basis, one by one, with thin client devices. And the replacements will be easy, because those thin client devices won’t need preloading with an operating system image. Instead, administrators can simply point the thin client device at an image hosted on the server.

This means that the capital expenditure that would have gone into a wall-to-wall desktop refresh can be spent on other, more strategic areas, such as application migration, or a service-oriented architecture project to help reduce IT costs going forward.

This is one way to derive strategic advantage from a desktop virtualisation program that goes far beyond simple cost and power savings. With IT spending set to increase this year, the extra money could be put to good use.

Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.