Will MDM have an effect on thin clients before it affects virtual desktops?

Adoption of modern management for virtual desktops will almost certainly lag behind traditional desktops, but is there an opportunity to use it with thin clients?

We've been writing a lot about modern Windows management lately, which is strange because we've never really covered systems management at a large scale before. How on Earth, then, did we start to care so much about it when we wouldn't normally jump at the chance to write an article on some upcoming release of SCCM?

This is kind of like falling into a Wiki-hole, where you start off reading an article about something like 787 seating configurations, then find yourself reading about the fall of the Roman Empire two hours later without ever having left Wikipedia! How the heck did you get here from there? (It's for this reason that I donate to Wikipedia every year!)

The answer, after a bit of time tracking a trail of bread crumbs, is because Unified Endpoint Management, modern management, or whatever you want to call it, was born out of Mobile Device Management, which we cover extensively. It's pretty funny, actually. Windows management was always right over there, waiting for us to write about it, and instead we took the circuitous route.

With that said, we're not going to start covering SCCM as a modern management competitor, but we are going to continue looking for ways to incorporate modern management into the other areas of this site. For example, how does modern management fit into desktop virtualization?

The overwhelming majority of the conversations around modern management have been about traditional desktops and laptops without much regard for their virtual cousins. I brought it up to VMware when Jack and I visited with the Workspace ONE team, and they noted that the AirWatch agent is supported in persistent desktops, but we didn't dig very deep other than to say that VMware's approach has some User Environment Management use cases. So far I have the impression that nobody has made any concrete plans regarding how modern management relates to virtual desktops yet.

This isn't completely unexpected. Microsoft only recently announced RDmi (Benny Tritsch dove into the details for us at Microsoft Ignite), so it remains to be seen what the third-party vendors like Citrix and VMware will do to leverage it, if anything. Even if they hopped on board today, we can still look forward to a long period where both management platforms are used.

The only place I can think of that modern management can have an immediate effect in the desktop virtualization world today is with thin clients. Windows-based thin client are low-hanging fruit, but it would be very interesting if we started to see thin client vendors build MDM capabilities into all of their OSes. As I wrote a while back, Stratodesk is looking into this, and CLI has already partnered with SOTI to manage their Android-based thin clients.

Of all the other thin client vendors, Dell is the most likely to step up to the plate next. Their relationship with VMware has already resulted in the ability for AirWatch to manage aspects of the physical hardware of traditional desktops and laptops. It's not too far of a stretch to think that they'd explore integrating it with thin clients, too.

One of the biggest strategic roadblocks to this is that, from a customer's perspective, whatever management platform you use dictates the thin clients you buy. Sure, there are companies that run multiple platforms to support multiple thin client brands, but by-and-large once you pick a certain platform, you're locked in. Switching to an MDM-based approach removes that lock-in, so the thin client vendors might be hesitant to do it.

Still, I have to think that the first "big name" thin client vendor to do this will kick off a trend. Ultimately, if this happens, it could result in a bit of a renaissance in the thin client world, since it will be more of an open market than it is right now. With one management platform, you'd be free to buy the most appropriate device, regardless of vendor, for a given situation. You may use Stratodesk for Raspberry Pi, CLI in environments where you want some Android-based applications to run alongside remote desktops and applications, and Dell/Igel/HP in other scenarios.

Perhaps it's a pipe dream, but there are some early signs that indicate MDM-managed thin clients could be in our not-too-distant future. We'll have to see what 2018 has in store.

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