There is a lot of talk at present about virtualisation, rack dense computing, thin client technology and so on but what does it all really mean? Many years ago, I carried out some research into the future of thin client computing at a time when the web was not universally available, e-mail was just beginning to become available on the corporate desktop, PCs were starting to intrude into our daily business lives and relational databases had become a credible toolset - yes, it was a long time ago.
At the time, I pointed out that the ultimate thin client was, of course, the green screen, but predicted that we would see a separation of functionality between the database, business and presentation layers. This is all pretty familiar stuff now but what I did not foresee was the decline of the PC as a computing tool and the return of centralised computing.
For years we have had to manage complicated PC estates which invariably require much manual attention, often hold data that should be on the network, and applications installed by the user that are probably not licensed. This is no longer necessary. With the maturation of thin client technologies such as Citrix, it is now possible, indeed sensible, to virtualise the desktop and run everything out of a centralised datacentre.
I have read articles that suggest that virtualising the PC is very difficult as you would effectively have one image per user. Not so, with modern control environments. Organisations can create a standard environment but only expose those applications and services that a user is entitled to use and hide the rest.
This means that PCs are merely acting as thin client platforms and when they finally wear out, we shall replace ours with smart thin clients. The advantages are too numerous to list, but include: accurate control over licences greatly reduced support effort inherent resilience simplified remote access and, of course, much greater data security and integrity. I calculate that we have also probably reduced our power consumption for computing purposes by around 50%.
There are one or two software suppliers that attempt to prevent the use of their products in a virtual environment or prefer not to support them. I predict that these firms will go out of business in the next 18 months, or change very quickly. I also predict that the need for localised powerful computing is also receding fast in the home environment.
I watch the rise of the web-based computer game that requires only a browser to take part. With the arrival of the likes of Google Apps, the home PC becomes little more than a presentation device, and with service providers providing storage on their infrastructure, you do not even need a disk drive.
So back to my first question what it really means is that, at last, computing is becoming a utility. We can put all our applications and data and computing power in one location, hand it over to a trusted business partner to manage and get on with the core business.