The concept of virtualizing desktops, aka Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, has been around since the early ‘00s, with the promise of simplifying and lowering the cost of end-user computing, licensing, support and software maintenance, with mixed — and typically less-than-predicted — results. VDI followed thin client computing, which got its start a decade earlier, and both follow in the footsteps of dumb and smart terminals like 1964’s IBM 3270 and 1978’s DEC VT100.
Reducing complexity, lowering costs and improving security and manageability are all laudable goals, so why have thin client, VDI and this decade’s variation, Desktop as a Service, met with such resounding yawns? The truth is that while the year of Thin Client, VDI or DaaS have yet to arrive, they collectively are catching on, according to Jeff McNaught, Executive Director of Marketing and Chief Strategy Officer of Cloud Client-Computing, Dell.
With more than two decades history in this market, including co-inventing and spearheading the development of the Wyse thin client back around 1995, he tells IT Trends & Analysis that the market continues to grow at pretty decent rates. “We think we have enabled a whole new series of not just markets, but use cases”.
The most recent available numbers show a declining thin and terminal client market, down 6.7% year-over-year, with shipments hampered by strong deployments in 2014, and ongoing economic and currency pressures in key parts of the market. IDC predicted 2015 shipments would reach 5.1 million units, but would return to steady growth from 2016 through 2019, reaching 6.4 million units in 2019. It’s currently a two-horse vendor race: HP held a slight lead over Dell, with 26.9% market share, versus 26%, with NComputing (8.8%) and Centerm (7.8%) holding down the next two positions.
The shipment numbers are very anemic when you consider how the rest of the device market is doing. While 2015 PC shipments were down substantially YoY, they still came close to 300 million units. Tablet shipments are expected to drop a few percentage points to just 195 million units this year, while smartphones surpassed 1.4 billion units last year.
Towards the end of last year Dell sponsored a study on thin clients that found that prospective customers don’t really understand how and where the technology can be deployed effectively. ‘The majority (of respondents) have an out of date view of thin client technology.’
The survey of 220 respondents globally (mainly US and UK) — 49% with 1,000-plus employees — concluded that ‘thin client hardware will have to make its way into organisations through proactive planning and transformation of the end user computing environment overall. While this sounds like a very mature attitude, the danger is that in the absence of compelling events to prompt consideration, the potential role and benefits of dedicated thin clients could easily get lost in the context of larger, more strategic initiatives.’
While the return on investment is hard to determine, a successful VDI project does deliver a sizable ROI, says analyst George Crump, Storage Switzerland, in a recent blog. ‘The real gains are operational. IT administrators can manage more virtual desktops per-headcount than physical desktops. VDI environments significantly reduce the time to deploy, upgrade and maintain desktops. Additionally, the organization gains greater control and security over its end-point devices, which means better protection from deletion, loss or theft.’
McNaught said the most important thing to remember is “that the things that are driving our customers don’t change.” All the increase in mobility and more personally owned devices is dong is driving whole new adoptions. Retail, finance, government, healthcare and education remain the key markets, “but what we’re doing now is incremental markets.”
Earlier this year Dell made a number of announcements intended to broaden its VDI reach from its enterprise and midmarket customers to SMBs. For the SMB market, the key is it’s now simpler to get started with VDI. “Instead of dipping the toe in the water, they can jump right in,” said Dan O’Farrell, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Dell Cloud Client-Computing.
McNaught came over to Dell with the Wyse acquisition (April 2012). “We very early identified that we had to reduce the cost… and increase the simplicity…[and] we’ve made a big effort to introduce complete solutions for our customers.”
From a cost perspective, they’ve been reduced from $1500 to in some cases below $100 each, which includes infrastructure cost and the cost of licenses. “This is the year we believe the mid-market can get into thin client computing.”
Looking ahead, he said Dell will continue to focus on costs and security, with thin clients now costing less than $50, and we’re “going to whack 25% off that.” The company will also make major security announcements this year, McNaught added. We are going to take it to the next level, advanced protection, that will prevent 99% of zero day malware and “will enable Dell to have the most secure Windows-based thin client in the world”.