What Gartner Didn't Say About Client Virtualization

Gartner released its annual " Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2009" last week and pride of place goes to virtualization, put right at the top of the list. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Gartner placed Cloud Computing directly below virtualization in the second spot.

You've probably seen coverage of the list and feel you've gotten the gist of it from the commentary. That's what I thought, too -- until I read it, which I recommend you do, too here. Gartner's discussion of each of the trends is illuminating, both for what they say -- and what they don't.

In discussing virtualization, Gartner notes that while server consolidation has been a huge growth area for the technology, 2009 will see storage and client virtualization become strong trends as well. Gartner rolls data de-duplication in under storage virtualization as well, although I must say that I view de-duplication as separate from virtualization -- de-duplication is an initiative that makes sense and should be undertaken (possibly) in partnership with storage virtualization, but is not a prerequisite for it. It might be more accurate to say that storage virtualization makes de-duplication possible, as the various copies of the data which formerly resided on physically separate machines with no opportunity to identify duplicative data available can now be mapped and reduced to one copy.

Turning to client virtualization, Gartner uses some curious language to discuss the phenomenon: "instead of the motherboard function being located in the data center as hardware [i.e., as individual blades] , it is located there as a virtual machine bubble." I'm not sure that using the term bubble really clarifies what client virtualization is: the move from putting an end user operating environment on a dedicated piece of hardware, whether a local PC or a data center-based blade, to putting an end user operating environment into a virtual machine which resides on (and co-exists with other virtual client machines) on shared hardware. Or, to put it more in Gartner's terms, multiple client virtual operating environments cooperatively existing on a single motherboard.

Gartner goes on to deemphasize the client virtualization trend, stating that "despite ambitious deployment plans from many organizations, deployments of hosted virtual desktop capabilities will be adopted by fewer than 40 percent of target users by 2010."

Without trying to criticize Gartner, it is an enormous disservice to the importance of this trend to characterize it with language that appears to downplay its strength. Simply stated, the move to client virtualization is, from an organizational impact perspective, far greater than server consolidation. Server consolidation is a back-room technology primarily of importance to IT operations. In Clayton Christensen (author of The Innovator's Dilemma) terms, server virtualization is a sustaining innovation, in that it improves an existing product.

Client virtualization, by contrast, dramatically changes the entire end user value chain delivery. Many discussions of client virtualization focus on the fact that, when done right, the end user sees no difference between his or her screen whether it is delivered via a traditional "thick" client or delivered through a virtualized environment. That is all to the good, and, frankly, if client virtualization imposed a significant difference from the traditional thick client, it would most likely be a non-starter.

However, the method by which that identical screen is delivered to the end user is significantly different in a client virtualization scenario. This means that the processes and operations of delivering the client environment must change-a lot-to achieve the benefits of client virtualization (more on that in a bit).

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