Due to the popularity of smartphones and tablets, some say we are entering the "post-PC era." Thanks to these new devices, the desktop computer no longer has a monopoly on our work lives. But as we use more devices, how can we maintain consistent access to our applications and data across them all?

Desktop virtualization can provide non-PC devices with access to desktop resources. Through virtualization, we can carry our desktop applications with us across several devices.

One common way to handle desktop virtualization is to run the desktop environment as a virtual machine (VM) on a central server. The user will then access applications from the desktop remotely. This approach is sometimes called virtual desktop infrastructure or VDI. VDI enables admins to maintain a single environment for several users, and for those users to have a consistent experience from whatever device they use to access the desktop. This is helpful not only for access on non-traditional devices, but for scenarios when employees may use more than one desktop or laptop for their jobs.

Companies like Citrix and VMware offer products for remote access to virtual machines from iPads and other devices. Health care, thanks to electronic health records, has emerged as the leading vertical for post-PC use of virtual desktops. But other verticals will likely follow suit. iPads are popular in finance, and 26% of large enterprises plan to support tablet computers.

Another approach to desktop virtualization is to run VMs locally on a device instead of on a server. This makes sense when you want to run multiple desktops from a single high-powered machine. Does it make sense in the post-PC era, where many of the devices that we use are significantly less powerful than a typical desktop PC?

Possibly. Many smartphones and tablets now have CPUs that can meet or exceed the requirements of virtualization. Bitzer Mobile is already bringing virtualized applications to mobiles, and VMware and LG are working on a tool that will create virtualized instances of the Android OS that can run on top of an existing Android installation. These are steps towards bringing desktop virtualization to mobile devices, and tablet are particularly well suited for it.

In the meantime, remote connections to virtual infrastructures remain the most viable way to provide desktop resources to mobile devices.