Tablets, phones make desktop virtualization the revolution that never was

Virtual desktops continue to grow, but focus shifts to ultramobile computing

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"Specialized form factors" such as netbooks, tablets, and smartphones will become an increasingly large percentage and more important part of enterprise computing, according to IDC. Tablets specifically may eat as much as a third of new-PC sales during 2011, according to Gartner.

The growth is so dramatic that Citrix, VMware and Microsoft -- and every other company making products for either mobile hardware or virtual desktops -- is pitching mobile virtualization as the primary answer to the consumerization of IT and strategies to manage it.

Virtualization for tablets and smartphones is easy to sell because it gives end users an essentially free way to use their favorite gadgets to work securely from wherever they are. It gives IT a way to keep from having to learn and manage every device and every operating system on a laptop, netbook, tablet or smartphone on the market.

If the "business" part of the device is virtual, all IT has to manage is the part on the server.

Not only that, but people love their new devices so much they'll jump through hoops and even spend their own money to get one they can use for work, then give IT much of the credit for making it possible, which leads to a more cooperative relationship between the two, according to Dave Bucholz, the Intel engineer who has overseen a popular and successful mobile virtualization project for Intel employees.

The future is mobile, and virtual

So which is going to have the faster growth rate and, more importantly, the greater impact on both new technology from vendors and new projects or strategies in end-user companies?

Mobile. No question.

Desktop and laptop PCs have the inertia, of course. There are millions more of them installed as full clients of business networks than there are tablets or smartphones.

Virtual desktops will certainly become a more important and more common part of enterprise computing, but isn't going to overturn 50 years of habit and infrastructure overnight, according to Gartner analyst Chris Wolf.

Fewer than 3 percent of current desktops are virtualized, though, according to IDC. Most of those used in call centers, banks and other places where the client hardware is one step above a dumb terminal.

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