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Why CIOs need to revisit desktop virtualisation

Cloud computing is the next revolution in infrastructure, but desktop IT is still very much on-premise

Desktop virtualisation is not a new concept, but IGEL, which recently moved out of the hardware business, is now partnering with major PC providers to offer thin-client access to Windows. HP, Lenovo and LG are among the hardware providers offering a range of thin-client desktop and mobile devices that run IGEL’s edge operating system.

Last year, IGEL and digital workplace management specialist Liquidware commissioned a Modernizing the digital workplace study from analyst firm Freeform Dynamics, which explored desktop management. The study found that many IT decision-makers recognise the need to change desktop delivery and management due to the limitations that became apparent during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The research report noted that due to hybrid work patterns, mobility and uncertainty, there is now a different set of user needs and expectations. According to Freeform Dynamics, desktop management approaches and techniques that were bleeding-edge a few years ago – the likes of user virtualisation, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and application streaming, for example – are now mainstream and available almost “off the shelf”.

Speaking at the IGEL Disrupt 2023 event in Munich, the company’s CEO, Jed Ayres, said the industry is reaching an inflection point. The world has moved to hybrid work, IT infrastructure is focused on hybrid clouds and, as Ayres pointed out, task workers are now remote workers.

This is one of the sweet spots for thin-client computing – providing a way for users to access applications in a secure way. Since devices are not designed to run applications locally, once a user logs off, data and applications can no longer be accessed, which makes thin-client computing highly secure and easy to manage.

Discussing the role of thin-client computing to support hybrid workers, Shannon Kalvar, research director for virtual client computing at IDC, said: “In today’s hybrid work world, end users want equal access to their apps and data regardless of their location or device, while IT needs lighter, more secure and manageable solutions to deliver workspaces.

“This is particularly important as we continue to see the skills gap increase in all sectors and industries – the issue is not exclusive to IT. Meeting this challenge will require us to rethink how we access, deliver, manage and sustain our digital workspaces.”

Speed and efficiency

Manageability is also greatly simplified, according to Ayres. “One of our largest customers, with over 100,000 seats, is literally managing the whole IT estate with just a single person,” he said.

Another customer, Luxottica, which runs Sunglass Hut, has more than 30,000 thin devices in over 5,000 global locations. Again, these are all managed by one person.

Simon Barlow, group chief technology officer for operations at AXA UK & Ireland, said: “Our remote workforce, the agile application landscape and more frequent update cycles of unified comms require us to onboard, manage and update our endpoints faster and more efficiently than ever before.”

The company has begun piloting the latest version of IGEL’s operating system software, OS 12, which runs a lightweight Linux operating system on legacy PCs and thin client devices.

“Based on our initial testing of OS 12, we are already confident that we can remotely configure, update and patch our remote machines faster and more efficiently,” Barlow added. The company is also using IGEL’s latest Cosmos management tool to update its Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop client.

One of the improvements IGEL has made with OS 12 is to introduce an app store to simplify the installation and deployment of apps supported directly by the new operating system. The app store offers Citrix Receiver, VMware Horizon and Microsoft remote desktop client software for accessing virtual desktop environments.

According to IGEL, this means its customers gain access to new features of VMware, Citrix or Azure virtual desktop more quickly. Previously, IGEL needed to embed the client software for these virtual desktop environments into its operating system.

There is also native support for Microsoft Teams and Zoom. One IGEL customer that uses Webex and Zoom natively with OS 12 is Cocc, a provider of core banking services for community banks in the US.

Billy Cruz, technology services manager for desktop engineering at Cocc, said: “The ability to now also update the Zoom and Webex offloading clients, independently from the VMware Horizon app, provides additional flexibility and reduces the time needed to perform management updates to increase employee experience.”

Time to reconsider

While thin clients can offer a viable alternative to traditional user computing, Freeform Dynamics’ Modernizing the digital workplace study found that many IT decision-makers are reluctant to consider them. Almost half of the CIOs who participated in the study anticipate that they would face major hurdles in modernising their user computing strategy.

In his keynote presentation at the IGEL Disrupt conference, Mark Mills, author of The cloud revolution and a partner at Montrose Lane Ventures, discussed how major infrastructure changes over the past century have taken about a quarter of a century to achieve. Cloud computing is hitting the 25-year mark and, according to Mills, the economic power generated by computational power is accelerating at an exponential rate.

There is no reason to assume that cloud computing will reside solely in the server software domain. PCs are effectively on-premise client devices. Thin-client hardware and software has evolved to a point where the user experience of a virtual desktop is no different to a physical PC. If the cloud is truly set to become the next major infrastructure revolution, it makes sense to consider the role of the humble PC and its evolution into a cloud-based PC.

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