What is interesting about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) efforts is that they are more effectively driving thin client solutions than the thin client movement itself did a decade or so ago. This is because the variety of devices, combined with the lack of focus on business requirements by Apple, has made it untenable to support each device individually.
As a result, IT departments are aggressively exploring alternatives that provide the experience users want on their devices—largely iPads, iPhones and Android smartphones—without causing support organizations to implode. The leading contenders are virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and desktop virtualization.
A lot of vendors were chasing this opportunity at VMworld 2012. Let's look at the different approaches from Dell and the partnership between Cisco Systems and EMC.
Cisco, EMC Focus on Low Latency
The Cisco/EMC/VMware collaboration known as the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) is one of the more interesting initiatives currently in market because it showcases strong technology and a unique partnering method.
VCE was designed as a way to get the benefits of a firm such as IBM or HP without the self-limitations, internal conflicts and bureaucracy a large umbrella organization brings with it. Most partnerships are little more than press events and don't weather the test of time. The VCE partnership is far different—the company even has its own CEO.
This relationship was leveraged to create a unique VDI solution in which EMC developed optimized storage products and tied them to Cisco's already optimized servers. Cisco came late to the party but added the perspective of a communications vendor. Unlike most servers, which are optimized for raw performance, Cisco's are optimized to minimize latency. This is critical for the VCE platform's unified communications goals.
It just so happens that virtualized desktops need low latency, too. In this case, it's to provide the user experience demanded by the market. The end result is a near-perfect storm of storage and servers, all made possible by a unique partnership. I talked to EMC and Cisco about their VDI offering a couple of weeks ago; the video is available here. Overall, the solution seems well positioned to addresses the BYOD trend.
Dell Taking End-to-End Approach
While EMC leads in partnerships, Dell leads in the more traditional, end-to-end approach of acquisitions. In addition, because Dell is a desktop vendor, it recognizes that a critical shortcoming of thin client solutions, such as the old Sun Ray 1, is inadequate graphics performance.
This strategy is wrapped with Dell services, through its acquisition of Perot Systems, and has within it a variety of management layers provided by various other Dell acquisitions. Collectively, Dell better addresses the more traditional areas for thin clients—call centers, shared employees or guest use—because the whole package has been designed with the familiar fixed-client architecture in mind.
As a result, Dell has developed a layered solution that includes zero clients from its recent Wyse Technology acquisition—zero clients, unlike thin clients, don't run any native code—as well as servers that use NVIDIA graphics components to pump up the client-side graphics performance. Dell has also shifted its focus at a corporate level to the midmarket, where larger firms have historically suffered. Overall, its solution offers advantages in its end-to-end coverage and midmarket focus.
Add to this Dell's lines of traditional PCs—the company is making a big Windows 8 splash—and Dell is richer than most companies. It offers a depth of graphics performance and a breadth of clients for companies making the transition between traditional desktops and virtualized desktops. Supporting Apple products likely won't be a leading strength, given that Apple and Dell are competitors, so Dell will probably position its Windows 8 tablets against iPads for its recommended deployments.
Consider Both Desktop Virtualization Approaches
Each strategy has distinct strengths and weaknesses. The EMC/Cisco approach should do better with larger companies and/or a large variety of client types, particularly iPads, which must be accounted for. Dell, on the other hand, should be better in the midmarket and in environments that are trying for thin client consistency, particularly around Windows—after all, Dell's Windows 8 skills should be unmatched. However, both are capable of stretching to embrace aspects of the other. Dell could support iPads, and EMC/Cisco should be able to work with traditional PCs.
When you define and a solution and put it out to bid, both choices are worth considering. They are relatively mature yet different enough to showcase your own unique needs and, perhaps, help you focus on what you really need.
In the end, what makes this interesting is the Apple is driving an initiative—desktop virtualization—that it doesn't even provide. There is some irony in that.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.