The myth of desktop transformation. Will we ever get there, or will the Big 3 lead us astray?

The unfortunate reality is that for all the hype about "desktop transformation" (or whatever you want to call it), there's still a very small number of people actually doing it.

There's a lot of hype about this whole concept of "desktop transformation"--the idea that we can use new technologies like desktop virtualization to break out of the tyrannical  install-deploy-fix-repeat desktop cycle.

But the unfortunate reality is that for all the hype about "desktop transformation" (or whatever you want to call it), there's still a very small number of people actually doing it. Even if you combine all the various desktop virtualization (and related technologies) together, we're probably looking at what, just a few million (10-15m at most?) of the world's traditional business desktops that have been totally replaced by VDI/client VM/Wanova/whatever? (And for this I'm not talking about all the View or XenDesktop users in "production" where the user also has a traditional desktop. I mean the honest-to-goodness, 100% traditional desktop replacement with some fancy new thing.) If you figure there are 500-700 million corporate desktops in the world, what are we looking at for total percentage of "real" desktop transformation? Two percent? Three? Man... it's nothing!

And I'm certainly part of the crowd pushing people away from this. While I spent most of 2009 and 2010 talking about the importance of doing Windows 7 and desktop virtualization together, I've backed off a bit this year as most people are more focused on getting to Windows 7 and less focused on virtualizing their desktops. (After all, if April 8, 2014 comes along and a company hasn't gotten off of Windows XP, someone's going to get fired. But the same risk isn't there for not virtualizing desktops by then.)

What's interesting about all this is that despite the minuscule quantities of desktops that have actually been "transformed," we know that there actually is a better way to manage and deliver desktops. We can do Windows desktops more securely, cheaply, and with better management than the current / old way.

The problem is that this isn't what the Big 3 (Citrix, VMware, and Microsoft) are selling today. Citrix seems all hopped up on iPads and zero clients, while VMware is focused on the end user computing environment of the post-PC era. Neither of these really address the fact that the vast majority (95%... 99%?) of business desktop users still run Windows locally on their laptops and desktops. And it's going to be that way for awhile. Heck, it's even happening at Citrix and VMware. How many Citrix and VMware employees do you know that have replaced their local desktop with a remote one?

Microsoft is perhaps a bit better, although really they're so busy looking over their shoulder and figuring out how to transform their business that they're starting to react and look more like Citrix & VMware. Microsoft certainly isn't driving the conversation around desktop transformation and what's real and what's hype, as I guess they've jumped on the "hype sells" bandwagon.

And of course we have about a hundred smaller vendors in this space, most of them operating on the "try to stay in business until we get bought," mentality. This is fine enough, but since each of them only solves a very specific problem or addresses a narrow use case, we're left with a feeling of dogmatic extremism as we walk from booth-to-booth at these huge shows meeting all the desktop vendors.

So what do we do?

I'm going to come right out and say it. I don't believe that the datacenter-based desktop, VDI or otherwise, will make sense for the masses anytime soon. Yes, I agree with Chetan that the majority of Windows desktops will ultimately end up in the datacenter. But for this current wave of desktop migrations centered around Windows 7, I just don't see it. I'm just not convinced that the masses will move away from running Windows on client devices in the next few years.

Now, a few caveats:

  • Yes, there will continue to be use cases for datacenter-based desktops like VDI and RDSH. And yes, those will probably even increase over the next few years. But for the near future, those will continue to be accessory desktops and apps provided in addition to a locally-running desktop. ANd for users where the datacenter-based desktop replaces the locally running desktop, that will still be a very small (a few percent) of desktops for the next few years.
  • Running local desktops doesn't mean we "give up" and just continue the status quo. We can use client hypervisors (Type 1 or Type 2), app virtualization, user virtualization, layering, etc. to improve the manageability, security, and overall experience. But local is where it's at.

Who will drive this conversation?

Well, me, for starters I guess.. ha ha. But who else could drive this?

I'd love for it to be Microsoft, but I feel like they're suspect. Really they just want to get Windows 7 in everyone's hands and then convince everyone that they should move to Windows 8, so I'm not sure they're in a position to say "This is the way to go." Especially if partners are pushing other directions.

I don't think it's going to be Citrix, as I mentioned earlier, because they seem really hopped up on the datacenter-based desktops with zero clients and iPads, although they might have something if they can get their act together with XenClient. (Although unfortunately I feel like XenClient for Citrix is them essentially extending the datacenter-based desktop onto a laptop, which is the wrong approach. I like VIrtual Computer's approach better since they're using a client hypervisor purely as a container for desktop management, but they're one of the hundreds of smaller vendors shouting for attention, and they're certainly not going to drive the conversation at the industry level.

I also don't think it's going to be VMware, because like I mentioned earlier, when it comes to desktops they seem to only really be focused on the post-PC era. They're really thinking "datacenter" (or "cloud") for everything, and their only real local desktop option is the View Local Mode crap, but even that's just viewed as a temporary use thing for the few times that a user is offline. (And View Local Mode requires Windows on the client?!?!?? So WTF, ya know? You're not replacing anything with this.) At the end of the day, VMware has 9,000 employees, and while all technically have access to a View desktop, very few (if any) have actually replaced their local desktop with a View desktop. So again, that's fine, but they're not leading us down the desktop transformation path from 2011-2014.

So who does that leave? Intel? I saw Intel at VMworld. They have this "intelligent desktop virtualization" thing which once you get through the marketing crap actually has a few good points, namely:

  1. Manage centrally, execute locally
  2. Layered images, delivered intelligently
  3. Use as many device-native capabilities as possible

This I actually like because it's applicable to all environments. You can kind of combine the first and third points, which is something I've been driving home for awhile. If your device has X capability, you probably want to use it. (The "X" can be a GPU, storage, camera, multi-touch, finger print, encryption system, whatever..) I mean no sense buying an expensive client and then doing all the work on the server (which is expensive and leads to a bad user experience).

And I like the concept of the layered images. I'm not talking about "end-to-end" layering here, but just the idea of some user virtualization, app virtualization, maybe a hypervisor to be able to leverage the local device capabilities while separating out the management.

Ok, so Intel has a good story here, which I guess makes sense since I assume they'd like to sell lots of processors on rich clients or whatever they're calling them. But I'm fine with that, because as a user, I want my client to be as rich as possible. I mean it's why I replaced my iPad with an iPad 2 and why I'm now scheming to replace my Droid 2 with a Droid 3. As a user, I like a rich client! Zero would suck for me.

But can Intel drive the conversation in the marketplace? Dunno. I'm not really sure that's what they do. It seems like they're attached to Citrix and the other vendors at the hip (joint booths a shows, co-marketing), so I don't know if they can break out their own message or not.

So I guess that leaves me:

Brian's 2011 message on desktop transformation

Here we go, in random order:

  • We have to get to Windows 7 before April 8, 2014. There's not enough time to totally "transform" your whole world. People are used to running Windows locally on their laptops and desktops. Keep doing that.
  • Leverage some of the desktop virtualization technologies to do that in a better way. Maybe it's app virtualization. Maybe it's user environment virtualization. Maybe it's a client hypervisor. Maybe it's one of the layer things like MokaFive or Wanova. But do that now.
  • Still strive for that many-to-1 management goal. Yeah, you can punt and stay 1-to-1, or P2V your existing environment to a 1-to-1. But there are better ways to apply and least some layering elements to get past that.
  • If you must put desktops in the datacenter, remember that you can still leverage local capabilities. Local multimedia, 3D, media streaming, VOIP, etc.
  • iPads and Androids for accessing Windows-based desktops are fun toys. Don't be too distracted by them. You can build secondary desktops in your datacenter for those who really need that type of access, but don't throw away the local desktop just to enable a rare iPad use case. (Remember iPads with LogMeIn are great "VDI" too.)
  • Yeah, eventually Windows will be banished to the datacenter. Apps will be SaaS/HTML5/RIA/whatever. That will be awesome. In 2014. But for now, just keep running locally. You can't beat it. Just manage it better.

Bottom line: We are all going to keep running locally for awhile. That's fine. Do what you can to manage that better. But don't go nuts. (We can go nuts next time around in 2014.)

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Well well well. So what happend with the prediction that VDI would take over the IT world as we know it in 2010? :-)

Your updated article in 2010 called for another check in 2011. Well here we are now and guess what? As I posted back in Jan, 2010 ( this may happen way further down the road.

Regarding Intel, I still think they are the ones that hold the key to the next generation of what we today call a desktop. Remember the Neocleus acquisition? McAfee? Even my fictional post about Intel buying Citrix ( shows where we can be heading to if Intel does decide to take the lead on all this.

Regarding Microsoft the key thing in my mind is how the next desktop will affect the OEM relationship between them and all the HW manufacturers. This accounts for a huge chunk of Microsof't's revenue and anything that may threaten such cash cow will not be seen with good eyes in Redmond. If all the sudden a new desktop model does not require Windows Next or whatever it is called to be on all these devices, then what? A new licensing scheme? A new desktop tax from Microsoft?

Hard to say at this stage.



I can just give a very simple reply, and I do know about the debate regarding the ROI and TCO numbers. But the CEOs and ICT managers I encounter are still battling with the investment. They find it easier to explain in the current economic climate to just go ahead in the traditional way. In my opinion the initial investment in hardware, storage and licenses are the biggest obstacle to embrace the desktop transformation model.


Brian,  thanks for the thought provoking piece.  I was reminded of Geoffrey Moore's thesis on market adoption of new technologies which he likened to crossing the chasm. The jist of his well proven theory is that  Innovations go mainstream when they cross the chasm of early adoption  when the innovation   addresses a large enough problem felt by the majority waiting to adopt.  There are numerous examples of the theory at work. But with VDI there is one key difference.

We are not talking of a single innovation or company when we talk of VDI but of an entire eco-system that is trying to cross the chasm together.  This by itself is a marvelous thing to watch as numerous companies of all sizes with differing agendas compete and co-operate and yet without any central co-ordination work together as an eco-system to overcome numerous adoption challenges.   We are past the era when a single killer application propelled a company to market dominance and allowed it to become a gorilla in its market.  Today's Gorilla's are coalition eco-systems built around vertical stacks and these take a long time to come together, mature and get adoption.    

The rewards of winning the Gorilla game for an eco-system are enormous and will result in many of the companies/products in that stack getting acquired integrated by the larget players as they try to exert more influence within the stack.   This is where many of the smaller companies are waiting to be acquired by trying to pick the right eco-system to play in and hope that it works out in the end.  

Chetan Venkatesh


atlantis computing


Chetan very well said.

Claudio, I agree ONLY when you are talking about non-expert companies building their own cloud.  When we built our first infrastructure we had all sorts of problems for the first 18 months.  Of course dealing, with different virtualisation technologies, different hardware from SAN’s, servers/blades/rack servers, software vendors, applications etc etc it becomes too much.

But we offer hosted desktops as do many other providers that we term TOTAL cloud.  We have pretty much become a migration house and specialise by building one huge infrastructure that all our users can leverage, so we have a dedicated team who manage storage, a team for Citrix and so on.  The platform is stable and fast, so I disagree if you are talking in regard to hosted VDI.  Of course, I know a number of VDI hosting providers who have had horrific downtime, these tend to be the large hosting providers (no names) who have just started offering VDI, which is different to our infrastructure; being built for one purpose and one purpose only, high IOP intense environments for VDI and the adjacent heavy load SQL (and other) applications that businesses run.

Like you correctly said, there are hurdles.  But these hurdles are becoming easier and easier to overcome.


Brian, I agree with the assessment  that the vast majority of PCs execute locally today and will continue to execute locally in the future.

The examples given by Vesk are for "tethered" users working on fixed desktops, typically from the banking industry.  

But what about laptops (the majority of PC users) run by knowledge workers, as well as desktops used by power users ?? People just don't want to compromise on their rich user-experience and give up the enhancements that continue to be offered on new endpoints. Furthermore, mobile users connected from various networks, often outside the corporate WAN, don't want to depend on unpredictable network latency for every keyboard strike or mouse movement, let alone not being able to work when not connected to corporate network.

That said, there is clearly high value for IT to centralize images and their management in the data-center, and occasionally even execute them centrally (e.g., in case of DR or when your local device is not with you). Our vision at Wanova is a hybrid approach: Centralize the images for manageability, DR, and universal access purposes, yet keep two-way cached copies on the endpoint for local execution and native user-experience. And yes, you can drop the centralized image onto a central VM quickly if you need to, but when you have your local device with you, enjoy your device, run locally...




"Furthermore, mobile users connected from various networks, often outside the corporate WAN, don't want to depend on unpredictable network latency for every keyboard strike or mouse movement, let alone not being able to work when not connected to corporate network."

<-- Yes VNC can do that.  


You can spend a lot of money on a Windows 7 migration and have exactly the same set of capabilities. That's the key question to ask when determining the amount of client architecture diversity that you require.

Client architecture diversity is already happening and will continue to grow increasing complexity. This will require a rethink of the management stack.

I'll also point out that Microsoft does state time and time again that a better managed desktop is a cheaper desktop. So I'll disagree with the assertion that MS is not stating their opinion. They actually want their customers to have a better managed Windows 7 desktop.

Staying as you are is not free.... it's a choice that needs to be made in the context of time pressure, current and future business needs. For that I am willing to bet client architecture diversity will continue to grow that will drive a management stack rethink.


I would have thought it just comes down to a few things:

1. What problem are you trying to solve?

2. What capabilities would you like now and in the near future?

The second is a little bit of a gamble but the first question should be answerable with quantitative analysis of the environment and user population.


This is also the Brian that called Windows "legacy" earlier this summer?  Oh well!  It's always good for a conversation. So here are some of my thoughts in this space.

VDI in the data center right now is too hard to pull off for most of us.  The technology and tools are simply too Immature.

Pulling of a migration from XP to Win7 VDI in the data center requires coordinated expertise in the apps, windows, VDI, and storage.  Oh yeah, and that layering stuff.  Few are able to pull that off right now.

Over time, it will get easier.  Storage will get simpler.  The VDI tools will improve.  We'll get the apps figured out too.

For a while, VDI in the data center will have pockets of wins, implemented by committed enterprises and using external help from people likewise committed.

On the other hand, I have been deeply disappointed with the current batch of client hypervisors from the perspective of the local capability.  Given how well Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V runs on a laptop today, Microsoft's moves to add it to Windows 8 probably is a death blow to the alternate client hypervisors.  Microsoft will win there (ensuring at least one copy of windows locally).  Fortunately for the Virtual Computers and MokaFives of the world they continue to have an excellent management play that will be needed.

But the client hypervisor isn't going to be the BYOPC idea.  The initial use will be by IT people and developers.  Over time it may spill out, as additional cool use cases appear.

So I'm looking five years out.  Tools improve.  We figure out layering.  Users get adjusted to the idea of having multiple operating systems.  The remoting stuff continues to improve and seamless access to apps from the thing directly in front of the user (I'm going to call it the "dashboard" rather than the "desktop").   Vmotion capabilities will make it to the home, where multiple physical devices are shared.

Then, and only then, will we be ready for mass migrations, potentially to the data center.

But I will agree that where possible, the enterprise needs to work on the underlying technologies to gain the experience internally.  Especially important is working the apps and layering part of this.  Get those pieces under control, which enables whatever direction you take in the future, but don't ignore the rest of this stuff.  Remember, the app mess you are in today exists in part because you ignored them when you skipped Vista.  Find small use cases to keep the momentum internally.


To Harry's ponit about migration, organizations HAVE to spend a lot on Windows 7 migration as most are on XP and the clock is ticking.  This is a pre-req in many respects to any further steps to desktop transformation.  However, they simply lift and shift everything from their current inventory.  Getting rid of waht they don't use can signficantly reduce this effort and cost and give them the means and opportunity to experiement with VDI and other client architectures much sooner.

The intersting dynamic is Microsoft wants the Win7 migration but not the VDI adoption that might occur after whilst the virtualization vendors (Citrix, VMware) are waiting for the  Win7 migration.  Stagnation of industry drive ???

Meanwhile if you talk to users of VDI they have mixed feelings about its benefits.  This is at the very least slowing adoption further.  Tim is right I think when he says this is still a maturity issue.

Looking at overall spending predictions from the IT analysts you see trillions currently being spend on traditional desktop management, billions about to be spent on virtualization and trillions to be spent on cloud infrastructure.  Does this suggest that VDI and other virtualization technologies will remain niche ?

Inevitably this will introduce more layers to the end-user computing stack (Physical device/desktop, virtual desktop, virtual apps, cloud apps)  as the existing technologies in broad use will continue to exist for years to come.  It will mean  more challenges for the enterprise to understand what they have, what they use and what they need to transition to which technology.  


I think one aspect of all this that is missing is that you can offer more functionality by virtualizing desktops AND save a company money.  I think this approach will be what larger companies begin to do in 2012 if they haven't already started, and they'll be done by 2014.  

By taking their desktop refresh money and turning extending existing PCs by converting to thin clients it will allow a company to provide greater functionality (access desktop from home/tablets/mobile devices) and reduce costs because the cost of implementing the virtual desktop infrastructure will be paid for by the savings on PC refresh.


The issue and the answer here is actually very simple.

The key vendors in this space are vying for mindshare and position. Large interests see some vague service model called "Cloud" as the future. As a result, the vendors are running around trying to position themselves with a competitive advantage.

In reality is VDI is a relatively immature technology that applies to a failry small number of use cases. It is a highly specialized technology that requires significant skills to execute properly. It is a valuable tool in the tooklit for about 10% of general customer use cases in our consulting practise, which has quite a track record of successful implementations.

In the panic to stake out Mind Share in the industry vendors are simply over selling it. That's all, it's really very simple. Great stuff, but only for the right use cases where there is a sufficient commitment to the complexities involved.

@JoeShonk and I outlined the specifics of this back in our2008 Briforum session about 10 Best Practises for VDI in which the #1 best practise was "Dont use VDI"  :)

check the video :)

The idea is simply this- VDI is being improperly frame and sold to the public. When you get passed the fantasies and see that the Emperor has no new clothes you can see VDI for what it really is. Then you can move forward and leverage it for the true benefits it can bring


Agreed.  The web URL shows up



The problem is this.  You are a VDI supplier, so anything you say has to be taken with a pinch of marketing salt.  There are a couple of other issues I have with your comments.

1.  London is not typical of the world - it's not even typical of the UK.  There are thousands of businesses not to mention councils, hospitals, etc.  outside London.

2.  Banks and other financial institutions are not typical businesses.  They absolutely are not.  They have the funds to make big capital up front investments.  Most small businesses (as the banks won't lend to them, but hey, that's another story) and public sector bodies do not.

Brian may be wrong about the actual %age, but essentially I would agree with his main point.  Most people in most places are not using VDI.  In the sector I work in, Health, I know of no extensive use of VDI.  One or two "flagship" places like UCL may be using it, but the vast majority of local hospitals (and this is the vast majority of health workers) are not.  Why?  Firstly because of the front loaded nature of the change.  Our budgets don't work like that. Secondly beciase of the wide range of use types, many of which don't fit well with centralised VDI setups.

It rannoys me when people extrapolate from a very untypical situation (e.g. central London and the City) across the rest of the country.  You could say I am doing the same.  But I know my sector and I can say it is nothing like the picture you that makes me wonder whether you are just seeing what you want to see and avoiding the ugly truth.   I am delighted that your business is so successful, but you only deal with people who want to do this and have the funds.  You only see the few hundred people who support your argument, not the millions who don't.

VDI is expensive and complex, and does not meet the needs of a lot of users.  I wish it were not so, but ...


I think Brian is right in the assumption that VDI will not be mainstream fast. Even though I personally think VDI in combination with application virtualization (and some additional tooling) is at this time the best solution for a managed corporate desktop, in practice I encounter lots of reasons why VDI is not easily accepted. Those reasons being (amongst others):

- Initial investment costs, your talking about a complete new server side infrastructure and   especially the storage part and the fact that usable thin clients are still a mayor cost factor, is debit to his.

- Cloud computing is such a hype now that the deciders within the company are 100% focused on it. This makes it hard for IT to sell an internal based infrastructure.

- What the deciders do not seem to understand is that desktop from the cloud is based upon exact the same techniques and therefore has the same restrictions (especially WAN related restrictions, not a good thing for a cloud based service). So they think that services from the cloud is at the same or even better level than an internal based services. Major contributor to this is the fact that many or most CIO’s within a company do not understand the technology and possibilities and restrictions that go with it. (still find it strange that a CFO needs to know everything about finances and a CIO only needs to be a good manager?)

- Many companies who at this time have experience with terminal server based desktops find the service to the users to be low grade and are therefore hesitant to go to a new similar (sounding) infrastructure. The cause of this is mostly a poorly setup and managed TS-infrastructure due to lack of funds, knowledge and commitment from the whole company. I do agree that a TS infrastructure is complex to manage and you do need a high expertise level and commitment within the company. VDI is less of a problem due to the nature of the solution.

- Te fact that VDI is going to cut drastically in IT staff that manage desktops and application deployment has also been a big obstacle for acceptance within IT.

It is a shame that decision makers of the medium and larger sized companies do not take their heads out of the sand and invest in one of the most important parts of their IT which is the environment their users work with. Especially while going over to a new Windows 7 platform such an investment is an opportunity they should seriously consider.


@zojo let me explain why you are wrong.

If you read my post, you will have noticed that I said I was not mentioning my name, or my companies name.  When I submitted the post it asked me if I wanted to change the poster's name, and I changed it to anonymous, but for some reason this didn't change, this must be a fault in the coding of the blog.  So, my words should not be taken with a pinch of salt.

I know there are lots of businesses outside London.  We have many clients outside of London, in fact our second largest customers is based in the very North of England !  You must think I am niave to mention this.

I know that banks are not typical examples.  I was purely giving examples based on LARGE deployments that I know about.

Zojo, most of our clients are SME's.  We charge literally no setup fee apart from the migration of data, which is a very small fee, normally about 1 month of the standard monthly fee.

You are talking about organisations not being able to make upfront investments, well, we don't require that.  I think you are referring to organisations building their own VDI deployment, again, we don't require that as everything we host ourselves.

Non of what you have said detracts in any way, away from the points that I have made.

You say it really annoys you, well it really annoys me too because as you said, you are doing the same.  You are in health care, I heard today the NHS pulled the plug on the new NHS Healthcare ICT programme.  They lost £6.4bn, not million, billion !  No wonder the health service aren't using VDI, it will take them another 5 years of consultancy until they eventually get there, and they will get there.  Just like G-Cloud, the Government cloud, any idea how much they have lost ?  G-Cloud was supposed to save the public sector £3.2billion by consolodating around 100 datacentre's into a dozen or so super datacentre's !  Unbelievable this money is being wasted.  Why didn't they ask me, or Brian, or other leading hosting companies for our help...  Anyway back to health, hopefully I've answered your questions as to why I think the health service aren't using VDI, yet.

So, I'm avoiding the ugly truth ?  I'm avoiding what's right in front of me.  Of course, everyone I meet is pro-VDI so it's easy to get sucked in.  Everyone knows people who run businesses hear what they want to hear.  But zojo, I'm older, uglier and wiser to be so crude in my judgement as I've made all those mistakes before.  I'm not saying this to benefit the area I work in, I'm saying it because it makes logical sense.  VDI implementations will get easier, costs will come down, Microsoft will make things easier (that's if we're not all OS open source in the near future), Internet speeds will increase in places you are talking about (outside of London !).


Healthcare Industry Emerges as Technology Leader in Cross-Industry Desktop Virtualization Adoption Study

LEXINGTON, Mass., Sep 28, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Imprivata(R) the #1 independent single sign-on (SSO) and access management provider for healthcare and other regulated industries, today announced that in a recent cross-industry survey conducted among 477 IT decision makers, the healthcare sector, often regarded as a technology laggard, emerged as the leading adopter of desktop virtualization technology. Survey results revealed that remote access (39 percent), desktop manageability (27 percent) and user desktop roaming (14 percent) are the leading drivers for adoption of desktop virtualization within healthcare, and the primary benefits being realized are desktop availability (34 percent), improved user satisfaction (24 percent) and simplified workflow (19 percent).