Cloud-oriented operating systems like Chrome OS, Jolicloud and Peppermint OS can run on low-end hardware and provide an alternative to desktop virtualization infrastructure (VDI). Instead of running a desktop environment on a central server, the desktop is displaced entirely in favor of Web applications. This approach does away with the need to virtualize and can ease compatibility issues across platforms. The offline storage feature of HTML5 will solve the availability issue for Web applications.
If cloud-oriented OSs catch on, will desktop virtualization still be relevant?
Porting desktop applications to the Web a great solution to compatibility issues. But there are some situations when it’s not practical. Not all legacy applications can be ported to the Web effectively. And though modernizing old desktop-based enterprise applications is a great goal, it’s not always financially feasible. In some cases, it’s cheaper and easier to use virtual machines. In these cases, running virtual desktops that are accessible from the Web could combine the two paradigms.
In some cases you might want to run Web applications within a virtual environment. Caching data locally, through HTML5 offline storage or by other means, can create security issues. You need to be able to encrypt and remotely wipe disks containing potentially sensitive data. Enterprise device management tools provide this capability, but there are some scenarios in which you may not want to wipe all the data on a device.
For example, employee-owned devices are becoming more common in the enterprise. Consider this scenario: employees using iPads they purchased themselves to access company Web applications. They use secure connections, but cache data offline. What happens when someone decides to leave the company?
You may want to wipe the employee’s device, but that would mean wiping all the personal data from the device as well as all the company data. Perhaps you could make it a company policy that employees who use their personal devices for work have to agree to having their personal information wiped if and when they leave the company. But this could be bad for morale, and discourage staff from bringing useful devices to work.
If you’re running a VM on the device, however, you can remotely wipe just the VM and leave the rest of the data on the device intact. It may make sense then to use a VM even when only accessing Web applications, so that all cached data can be selectively wiped. In this case, you’ll want to run a local VM that includes features such as a VPN client and Web browser. VMware is working with LG on a solution along these lines.
Desktop virtualization has many uses. Even as new devices proliferate and applications move to the Web, running local or remote VMs will remain a relevant technology for years to come.
Photo by Yasunari Nakamura