Desktop Virtualization: Where Thin Clients Meet the Cloud

Today the organization behind the popular Xen open-source hypervisor announced the latest release of its virtualization software. It’s smaller, has better power management and graphics capabilities, and can run on machines ranging from servers to laptops and mobile phones.

Also, Nortel announced today a product it calls an “office-on-a-stick.” I would call it a virtualized desktop. Nortel joins companies large and small pushing products that can replicate your computer and information anywhere on computers, thin clients and even cell phones. Desktop virtualization competitors MokaFive, Citrix, VMware, Microsoft, Desktone and Pano Logic are trying to grow the market as well.

Participating in a call related to the semiconductor industry earlier this week, I heard from one of the analyst participants that thin-client sales were on the upswing as management focused on power savings, security and manageability. A virtualized desktop can be delivered via a USB drive, a thin client, and on hypervisor-equipped laptops. The benefit of virtualization to most companies is that mobile users can take USB drives, thin-clients or laptops and recreate the corporate compute environment in a secure and controlled setting. This takes a lot of the expense out of managing hundreds or thousands of desktops.

There are several ways to virtualize desktops. In the old thin-client model of computing, the client was connected to a server though the corporate LAN, making it a good choice for some companies worried about security, but less compelling for widespread use. Then products that allowed clients or computers to connect to virtualized computing environments located on a central server emerged. But Ian Pratt, founder of, points out that as hypervisors start to ship on laptops and other devices (Samsung is putting a hypervisor on ARM processors for some of its smart phones) a form of two-way virtualization and syncing can occur that’s far more secure and flexible.

As virtualized servers have been gathered into computing clouds, hooking some kind of virtual desktop to that cloud has become easier to implement and manage, making desktop virtualization more interesting for corporate buyers. That was a reason Microsoft found startup Kidaro interesting enough to acquire in March and is also the value proposition behind MokaFive. The next few years could see some real changes in corporate computing.

photo of Ian Pratt courtesy of Citrix