Blog Post

Desktop Virtualization: Where Thin Clients Meet the Cloud

Today the organization behind the popular Xen open-source hypervisor announced the latest release of its virtualization software. It’s smaller, has better power management and graphics capabilities, and can run on machines ranging from servers to laptops and mobile phones.

Also, Nortel announced today a product it calls an “office-on-a-stick.” I would call it a virtualized desktop. Nortel joins companies large and small pushing products that can replicate your computer and information anywhere on computers, thin clients and even cell phones. Desktop virtualization competitors MokaFive, Citrix, VMware, Microsoft, Desktone and Pano Logic are trying to grow the market as well.

Participating in a call related to the semiconductor industry earlier this week, I heard from one of the analyst participants that thin-client sales were on the upswing as management focused on power savings, security and manageability. A virtualized desktop can be delivered via a USB drive, a thin client, and on hypervisor-equipped laptops. The benefit of virtualization to most companies is that mobile users can take USB drives, thin-clients or laptops and recreate the corporate compute environment in a secure and controlled setting. This takes a lot of the expense out of managing hundreds or thousands of desktops.

There are several ways to virtualize desktops. In the old thin-client model of computing, the client was connected to a server though the corporate LAN, making it a good choice for some companies worried about security, but less compelling for widespread use. Then products that allowed clients or computers to connect to virtualized computing environments located on a central server emerged. But Ian Pratt, founder of, points out that as hypervisors start to ship on laptops and other devices (Samsung is putting a hypervisor on ARM processors for some of its smart phones) a form of two-way virtualization and syncing can occur that’s far more secure and flexible.

As virtualized servers have been gathered into computing clouds, hooking some kind of virtual desktop to that cloud has become easier to implement and manage, making desktop virtualization more interesting for corporate buyers. That was a reason Microsoft found startup Kidaro interesting enough to acquire in March and is also the value proposition behind MokaFive. The next few years could see some real changes in corporate computing.

photo of Ian Pratt courtesy of Citrix

15 Responses to “Desktop Virtualization: Where Thin Clients Meet the Cloud”

  1. Speaking of desktop virtualization, a really interesting green computer technology I found is Userful Multiplier. It’s where multiple people can use the same computer at the same time each with their own monitor, mouse and keyboard. This saves a lot of electricity and e-waste. A company called Userful recently set a virtualization world record by delivering over 350,000 virtual desktops to schools in Brazil. They have a free 2-user version for home use too. Check it out:

  2. Computer companies should create a new computer design, that would allow multiple people to do multiple, simple things on a single computer, in a home setting. For example, on same computer, one person could be doing voice chat with someone (that only needs a headset, not computer monitor), another could be watching a movie on a TV connected to the computer (that does not need computer monitor or headset), one could be editing a spreadsheet on the computer (that needs computer monitor)

    Also, please provide EASY way to connect computers to TV, for watching those movies, etc on TV, given the growing trend of people watching movies/videos, etc

    Thanks, Avinash
    Published at blog:

  3. Just to clarify, Stacey, Nortel’s Secure Portable Office is more than desktop virtualization. Office virtualization would be a more appropriate description. Secure Portable Office enables simple, secure access to data and applications in the corporate data center. The ‘virtual desktop’ feature is used to provide a secure workspace on an ‘un-managed PC.’ Session data is encrypted so no one else can gain access to the corporate data. And when the USB key is removed from the PC, the virtual desktop removes all session data.

  4. Stacy,

    Interesting that most desktop virtualization solutions you mention target the enterprise desktop virtualization market. What do you think about applicability of desktop virtualization to the mass market, in the form of cloud-based utility delivered by carriers to enterprises as well as SMBs and consumers. In addition to a hypervisor it would require a delivery platform, of a kind has developed for the emerging mass market of cloud computing. The one that scales to tens of millions of subscribers. Is this worth a separate ‘virtualization beyond the enterprise’ blog entry?

    Misha Nossik