The solution for this problem may come in the form of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), a slicker and higher-performance thin client model, an amalgam of the two, or something completely different. Bottom line: We need a new paradigm that extends the PC tradition of personal empowerment, yet sustains centralized IT control, security, and management.
Ultimately, portability should be part of the package, too. That way, users can take their desktop environments with them and work without a connection; when that connection is restored, so is IT control. Will some kind of secure, client-side virtual machine be the solution? Will users bring their own laptops or tablets and run that "business VM"? Maybe. But nothing like that is close to getting widespread traction yet.
IT fix No. 2: Disk-free virtualization servers If you were to go back in time just 10 years and mention that a 64-bit 48-core server with 512GB of RAM would be available for relatively cheap in 2010, they'd look at you funny, then wonder aloud about the possible uses of such a beast. Almost overwhelmingly, the answer to that question today is virtualization.
There's no doubt that virtualization is the path of IT for the foreseeable future. An essential part of that vision is huge multicore servers, each housing dozens of virtual servers, but the default configuration of those servers is nowhere near purpose-built for virtualization. It's time to change the defaults.
Most servers may now be aimed straight at the virtualization market, but they're still constructed for a single-server role. The additional hardware, heat, power, and size of these boxes don't do any good in a virtualized environment, and we could easily do away with them. Virtualization hosts need only three items: CPU, RAM, and I/O. Hypervisors can and should boot from internal flash devices or at the very least a 1.8-inch SSD, but the need for physical disk -- along with all its cooling and power requirements -- can be jettisoned.
A few entries in the server market fit this model to a degree, but they're all blades meant to reside in the appropriate chassis, all with local disk. In five years, I expect that ordering a blade chassis or a server with local disk to be the rarity, while diskless virtualization host servers will be the norm, with virtualization and SANs as common as keyboards.
Bring those servers to the smallest reasonable size possible, then go forth and virtualize. In 10 years, we'll tell our kids about way back when you could buy a server with an internal hard drive.