Why "Identity" will be the next big thing in desktop virtualization

Most of us have probably heard of phrases like "identity management" and "identity" in the context of IT. And if you're like me, you probably heard those things and thought something along the lines of "I'm glad that's not anything I have to deal with as a 'desktop' person.

Most of us have probably heard of phrases like "identity management" and "identity" in the context of IT. And if you're like me, you probably heard those things and thought something along the lines of "I'm glad that's not anything I have to deal with as a 'desktop' person." Guess again! One of the things I realized at BriForum 2011 London last week was that (1) identity matters, and (2) it matters to us, as 'desktop people.'

My realization that "identity" will be important for desktop virtualization is based on a few things that have been happening over the past few years.

First is that the concept of the desktop is changing. For the past twenty years or so, "the desktop" was "The Microsoft Windows OS that includes system bits, apps, data, and personalization." Sure, desktop virtualization has evolved that a bit, but even a VDI desktop is still a tradition Microsoft Windows desktop. (That old desktop is what I call the Desktop with a capital "D.") But if you think about what a desktop is really, it's not about the Microsoft Windows OS -- it's about the display and collection of a user's apps, data, and personality. So in the past it was manifested as a Microsoft Windows OS instance (whether static or dynamic), but moving ahead it could be an iPad, a Mac, a phone.. whatever. (I call that new thing the "desktop" with a lowercase "d.") So in a future desktop (lowercase "d") world, the concept of the user identity is even more important. (And hence more important to us, as we evolve from "Desktop architects" to "desktop architects.")

And of course I'm not the first to realize this. (It's just that now I realize it! :) Look at what VMware is doing with Horizon, what Citrix is doing with OpenCloud Access, and what companies like Centrix are putting together. All of these products are fundamentally about extending your corporate identity out to all the apps and data that will make up your future desktop (small d). You could even say that one of the core tenets of my "user virtualization for all platforms" fantasy is identity management.

At BriForum last week, I gave a session with Harry Labana about the "Future of the desktop" (where we basically talked about how the Desktop was evolving into the desktop), and I gave a session about the consumerization of IT (where I argued that it was not about BYOC/BYOD but instead about the reality that users can do whatever they want, whether we like it or not). In those conversations it was suggested that in a world where an end user can just go out and buy his or her own Dropbox, Gmail, Salesforce, or 3G card, perhaps the "identity" is something valuable that the corporation can own and provide to the user when the user is operating in a work context? So this leads to a need for users to manage multiple identities. (Which is something we already do now.)

Or does it mean that if we do identity right, users will just be able to use their own identity (Facebook/Google/LinkedIn/Whatever) for access to corporate resources that have been granted to it. If this happens, have we solved the problem (one identity) or made it worse (since there's even less I need the corporation for)?

At this point I'm in the very early stages of figuring out just what exactly identity is and how it relates to desktop & application delivery, but I know it will be important. How do you think we as desktop folks should approach this?

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