Back to the Future – The Comeback of Centralization

Once upon a time there were big air conditioned glass-walled rooms. They were called data centers and a company’s computing resources all happily resided there along with the people taking care of them.

If you wanted to access the computing resources, you accessed them via a dumb terminal. It was really dumb – all it was useful for was accessing the centralized computing resources and whatever services were provided by them. All it displayed was whatever the centralized computer to which it was hooked told it to.

Though sometimes networked (over networks that were incredibly slow by today’s speed standards), users were fixed to wherever their terminals happened to be located. So, if you could not get to a terminal, then you were pretty much out of luck until you could get access. When I was an undergraduate, we thought that our DEC VAX was pretty cool and that living near the computer center was convenient.

Then came the revolution with the advent of personal computers that had local processing capability so a user could run their own applications, store documents, data, and email locally, access the Internet, and the like.  It allowed users to install whatever “cool” applications they felt like, get viruses, and increase the complexity and cost of managing a company’s desktop computing environment, and more.

But, they were personal and customizable and always available, barring the all too frequent system crash.   Eventually, they were portable.  This meant that if you had not backed-up your documents and data, losing the portable PC was a disaster.  This further complicated desktop management and data security for the company.

As desktop management and administration software proliferated to ameliorate these issues, the cost and complexity of PC management, when the PCs were even managed, just continued to grow.

A less costly, more secure, easier to manage solution was needed…

Then came a new solution – centralization! Again.

The new paradigm is called desktop virtualization and is also referred to as hosted virtual desktops (HVD), shared hosted desktops, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), and probably other terms, too.  It all depends on the vendor you are talking to and the particulars of the solution you are talking about.

So, rather than running desktops and desktop applications on your PC, the new trend is to virtualize and deliver them from centralized servers to end-user devices, whether it be a PC or tablet.  Smartphones work, too, but running a desktop and desktop applications on such a tiny screen is not the best user experience.

These centralized desktops may be located in a company’s data center, hosted, or in the cloud where they run the client OS and desktop.  They run as applications and essentially send a display back to the end-user’s device. This is enabled by today’s high speed networking services, down to the last mile whether it be a corporate, ISP, or wireless network. All of this enables a rich user experience to be piped into your device no matter how you are connected.

Under this desktop delivery paradigm, companies have a solution that is, if designed and implemented correctly can be:

  • Less costly to manage
  • More secure
  • Allows for easier client OS upgrades (e.g., to Windows 7)
  • Enables end-users to use a variety of devices, not just a PC
  • Enables companies to implement a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program where employees can use the device they want, not just those mandated by the company
Do you think that the re-centralization of desktop and application delivery is the new dominant trend in end-user computing or just the current hyped trend? How will this delivery model affect the way that you provide desktops and applications to your end-users? We value your comments and thoughts. Please leave a comment here so others can benefit from your experience.
Michael Weinstein Product Development Director AT&T About Michael