Desktop Computing Models not as Clear as Gartner Forecasts

Gartner recently released a report saying that 42% of computers globally will run Windows 7 by the end of 2011. That is a considerable expectation shift from past reports that indicated great masses migrating in 2009 and then again 2010. While any claim of less than 50% is more reasonable than past claims, there are still many variables, as well as our continued anecdotal observations to the contrary: mainly that there will be a long, slow migration to newer operating systems. I think Gartner’s 42% is aggressive this year, certainly within the business enterprise environment.

Why? We’re simply not seeing it with our customers- not in the past six months, nor now. The majority of our customers still run Windows XP and most of our new customers buy our product to deploy Windows XP (but they‘re grateful that it will work the same for Windows 7 when they get there). Recognizing some of these trends, I think analysts have started to relax projections (as indicated by Gartner’s latest report). However, there are still issues I see with their forecast.

I’m less bothered by the quantitative claims in the Gartner report than I am about the assertion they make that Windows 7 will be the last Windows operating system mass deployed by corporate IT. I look at the state of enterprise IT and there is simply no clear-cut alternative. And while we frequently have customer discussions about alternative desktop computing models, such as desktop virtualization, we have no consensus whatsoever from customers as to the “right” solution. It’s still too complicated, expensive, and new. For the CIO, all of this translates into risk, which is what they trying to avoid.

Moreover, new desktop computing models do not negate the need for mass deployment solutions. It is naïve to think that the desktop of the future will run on the same platform for every user in an organization. Knowledge worker computing demands are too diverse to apply a completely homogeneous desktop computing model across an enterprise. To the contrary, I believe new computing models will exacerbate the need for intelligent large-scale deployment and management solutions.

Perhaps the most egregious implication of Gartner’s latest report is that the desktop of the future will be realized in 5 years or less. It simply does not make sense based on customer feedback and our knowledge of the state of their infrastructures. (We have very large customers who won’t have their Windows 7 migrations done in 5 years!) Now, from a technology perspective, there will be mature solutions readily available and sold aggressively to customers in all industries and market segments. But there is yet another complicated question of value associated with these solutions, and whether customers can be convinced that it will save time and money.

My sense is that the technology industry wants to see the desktop trend move in the same direction as the data center. But in business terms, desktop virtualization bears very little resemblance to server virtualization. Server consolidation through virtualization delivers considerable, immediate value and is complemented by a positive, green PR story. Not so on the desktop. VDI does not deliver the same direct cost savings as consolidated, virtualized servers; and the challenge of anywhere, anytime access to the desktop for the modern workforce requires an OS local to the end point, which only adds more software to traditional desktop computing and ultimately a higher cost and more management overhead.

There are business environments and use cases ideal for today’s desktop virtualization models. We are generally proponents of desktop virtualization, but we have yet to see prevailing desktop virtualization architecture and a market-dominating solution and I expect we will not for several years to come.

Ultimately, my position remains the same: businesses use technology to improve productivity and keep the business running. With the sluggish movement away from Windows XP, is it really realistic to believe that business will make the quantum leap to completely new computing models accompanied by new IT management models with the Windows 8 or even the Windows 9 wave on the horizon?