Near the end of almost every year, dramatic reductions in the size and weight of typical business laptops and PCs spark a series of blogs and media stories about how drastically different "your computer" will be next year.
The way it looks so far for 2011, much of the power, data and abilities of "your computer" will have less to do with the hardware on your shoulder than with the data centres and virtualisation capabilities of both internal IT organisations and external service providers.
"The industry has been delivering technology to users based on the physical model of the computer, which doesn't fit the way they want to consume the technology," says Chris Wolf, analyst at The Burton Group. "The future really is convergence of virtualisation technologies and services that include client VMs, server hosted VMs, SaaS, PaaS and other services, so what users think of as 'their' computer is more about resources than the box."
2011: The Year SaaS and PaaS take off?
The increasing variety of ways in which desktop virtualisation technologies can supplement or safeguard the end-user's computing experience makes virtual desktops much more attractive than in years past, especially with recent enhancements in the ability of thin clients to support graphics and web browsing, according to Mark Bowker, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.
Consumers who flocked to free online email and social media sites and then absorbed increasingly complex business-oriented services including CRM, ERP and accounting have helped push corporate IT into accepting the idea that relatively generic online services such as those and the platform-as-a-service offerings of cloud vendors could play legitimate and critical roles in IT infrastructures, Bowker says.
"In a survey we did of corporate Gmail users, 17 percent said they'd also be interested in a hosted desktop model using some third party to supply desktops for their enterprises," Bowker says. "That's a big change from a few years ago."
Laptops, nettops and handhelds will make up more than 60 percent of all PC shipments during 2010, but fully 10 percent of new enterprise desktop clients will be virtual, according to analyst firm International Data Corporation's report, "Personal Computing Top 10 predictions for 2010."