Could virtual provisioning eliminate desktop management?

Citrix has added to its virtualisation arsenal by acquiring Ardence, a move which could allow it to provision an entire desktop system remotely.


While talking with colleagues at EMA about the acquisition late December of Ardence by Citrix Systems, an interesting question came up – will this new model of virtual provisioning eliminate desktop management, and especially legacy-style desktop provisioning?

Most of you will have heard of Citrix. It offers infrastructure solutions that deliver applications to end users, including Presentation Server – a virtualisation product that delivers centrally hosted applications (or even entire desktops) to end users – and an announced but as-yet unreleased product code-named Project Tarpon, which provides application streaming.

Streaming is a virtualisation technology that provides a way for software components, including applications, desktops, and even complete operating systems, to be dynamically delivered from a central location to the end-user over the network. Unlike traditional software delivery, there is no complex and lengthy installation process. A minimal block of the software is downloaded up front, and available for use almost immediately, much like streaming video. While the user starts work, the rest of the software is downloaded in the background or as required.

With technologies like Presentation Server and Project Tarpon, users can access a customised desktop and applications wherever they are, as long as they have an operating system from which to do so – which is where Ardence comes in.

Among other things, Ardence provides the ability to stream not just an application, but an entire operating environment. At boot time, the desktop downloads a minimal block of the operating system across the network. The operating system (Windows or Linux) almost immediately starts to boot. This provides the missing link in the virtual provisioning model – the operating environment from which to access the virtual desktop, virtual applications, or to initiate streaming applications.

From a bare metal (and potentially diskless) workstation, an end user can load a streamed operating system, and then access a remotely hosted virtual desktop, virtual applications, or streamed applications. From day to day this environment can be easily updated and managed centrally. It is secure because when the user switches off the desktop at the end of the day (or more importantly, a laptop) the entire operating environment can be blown away, including any data stored on a central server. However, it is also portable, because the streamed environment can (optionally) be cached locally.

It is worth noting that Citrix is somewhat late to market with application streaming. Companies like AppStream and Microsoft (via its acquisition of Softricity) are already in this market. And many vendors provide solutions for virtualisation and/or virtual machine provisioning (Altiris, IBM and VMware, among others). But no-one else is yet providing this entire virtual provisioning stack.

Nevertheless, once Citrix completes this package, are we seeing the future of desktop provisioning? Is this the end of complex operating system and application deployment? Will distributed patch and configuration management be a technology of the past? Certainly not entirely – in many environments this virtual model simply does not work. But for some organisations, “legacy” provisioning will indeed be replaced by this new model of bare metal virtual provisioning.

Andi Mann is a Senior Analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, an IT analyst firm focused on enterprise management systems and services. He has over 20 years experience across four continents working with large-scale enterprise systems, including mainframes, midrange, servers and desktops. He has worked in IT for many large corporations; and in a range of technical and product management positions with several enterprise software vendors. At EMA, Andi covers the intelligent and automated management of enterprise IT systems and applications.

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