January 24, 2011, 12:19 PM — IBM has launched a Third Way in the complex and competitive market for virtual desktops by using third-party software to give companies too small to manage or pay for complex infrastructures some of the benefits of the technology for as little as $150 per seat.
Desktop virtualization is actually a range of technologies -- implementations as narrow as one that streams a single application to any user who wants it, to back-end servers that run "PCs" as virtual machines used by only one person at a time.
Traditionally virtual desktops have been networks of PCs or dumb terminals that all log in to one server to share a single operating system and set of applications.
Desktop virtualization -- full-bore virtual desktop infrastrucutre (VDI) specifically, which is complex and expensive -- grew quickly during 2010, but not nearly to the degree analysts expected.
Much of the holdup, according to Chris Wolf of Gartner and Ian Song of IDC, is that virtual desktops don't save nearly the amount of money virtual servers do, and are more complex to roll out because of the much higher number of machines to be virtualized.
There has been a fight in the computer industry over the past two or three years to see whether virtualization leader VMware or the potent, multi-dimensioned team of Microsoft and Citrix will dominate what was supposed to be an exploding market for virtual desktops during 2010.
That competition has focused primarily on large companies and complex infrastructures that let employers run half a dozen varieties of virtual-desktop technologies across their networks.
Small- and mid-sized companies are the perfect candidates for virtual desktops because the unavoidably manual and labor-intensive end-user support requirement eats up so much larger a percentage of their time and budgets.
The same limitations make it less likely they'll want to invest in VDI, however.