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Wyse: 2011 Predictions - Computing Infrastructure Choice

What do Virtualization and Cloud executives think about 2011?  Find out in this series exclusive.

Contributed Article By Jeff McNaught, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, Wyse

2011 Predictions - Computing Infrastructure Choice

While it's certainly more dramatic to trumpet The Death of the PC, the reality is far more mundane.  Consumers and businesses will continue to purchase PCs - lots of them.  What the events of the past few years have set in motion, however, is the eventual marginalization of the personal computer as the de facto business and consumer computer device.  Today, 90% of individuals are accessing their computing infrastructure via PCs and 10% (and growing) are accessing via a widely dispersed combination of virtual desktops, cloud PCs, zero clients and more.  In less than 10 years, I expect that ratio to be reversed.

The catalyst for this marginalization can be summarized in a single word: choice.  Businesses and consumers have more choice than ever regarding how they access and manage their computing infrastructure.  This choice is a direct result of a new generation of end point devices, and infrastructure advances in virtualization, cloud computing, and networking.

First, the devices.  The year 2010 was the year of the tablet device, the iPad in particular.  Like 2009's trendy piece of hardware, the netbook, end users were offered a viable (less costly) alternative to the dominant PC model for conveniently consuming rich content.  Users gobbled these up like crazy.  Not only was a new kind of gadget candy introduced, but a new category of computing options was legitimized.  Where earlier implementations of the tablet computer may have failed for reasons of timing, design or functionality, the iPad broke through.  Imagine what the tablet market will look like when it matures past the Early Adopters?  Look for the next generation of the iPad and a host of new entrants to contribute to this accelerating market and to eat away at the PC market. 

Smart phones also continue to explode, and with the continuing innovation around mobile applications, individuals have the ability to conduct more and more business on more portable devices.  Two years ago, there was no App Store, no Android Market.  Today, hundreds of thousands of apps have been developed and found their way into the hands of end users.  The market for apps alone is estimated by some[1] to reach $15 billion worldwide by 2013.

Another device that businesses will hear more about in 2011 is the zero client.  While they can't compare with the buzz of the iPad, zero clients had their fair share of attention in 2010.  Wyse introduced the first zero client to the market in 2006, promising a no-hassle, secure way to access corporate data.  In 2010, we introduced our next-generation zero clients.  In short, the simpler a device, the easier it is to deploy, maintain and service.  The fine line is balancing the upside of simplicity with the downside of obsolescence.  Some have coined the term "true zero client" to mean a hardware-only device with no local intelligence, but this is a dead end in a dynamically changing technology landscape.  Yes, you want your device to be dead simple; but if it can't evolve as needs change, enterprises will soon have a much bigger problem on their hands.

On the infrastructure front, the buzzword du année was cloud computing.  At Wyse, we look at cloud computing as much as computing philosophy as a technology infrastructure.  One hundred years ago, or so, manufacturing plants were constructed in close proximity to power sources.  Think of the old textile mills of New England with water wheels nearby; or those in the Northwest that used water power for lumber mills.  Advances in electricity transmission and distribution led to a decoupling of power and proximity.  Now, power is produced virtually anywhere.  That same process is under way today in computing.  Technology advances in virtualization and cloud computing are leading to a decoupling of computer power and storage.  

With a mature, reliable and high-speed Internet connection, the PC HDD becomes not only unnecessary, but a liability.  By and large, the HDD is where things break down in a computing environment. 

I've seen companies move to virtual desktops for many different reasons - energy savings, more business flexibility, lower TCO - but the number one reason has been security.  Going back to the HDD limitation, the more sensitive data stored on local devices, the more opportunities there are for failure.  Every single computer with local storage that has access to corporate information is a liability.  Wikileaks should be a wake-up call to corporations.  In a recent study by Intel and the Ponemon Institute, they estimate a 5 to 10 percent chance that a laptop will disappear in a three year period - of those, they estimate 25 percent are stolen, with another 15 percent likely stolen, and approximately 60 percent logged as simply missing.

We've seen desktop virtualization take off in highly-regulated industries such as healthcare and financial services largely because of security concerns, but I expect these same concerns to cross over into nearly every industry eventually.  Not everyone is as lucky as this gentleman.

In order to reverse the 90/10 ratio mentioned earlier, you need to look at what computers (and by 'computers' I mean everything from PCs to zero clients to smart phones and more) are being used for.  There is in my mind a distinct difference between 'creating' content, and 'consuming' it.  For consumers of information and entertainment, any device that is appropriate to that content will do.  A smart phone or Blackberry for email, an iPad for movies or presentations (or if you have Wyse's PocketCloud app, you're already doing Windows on your iPad), etc.  For creators of content, a desktop computer will still be the hardware of choice.   That hardware may be a PC, but eventually it is just as likely to be a virtual desktop.  So when consumers of content no longer need a PC, and a large percentage of content creators don't need one either, you can see the margins drying up.

The PC won't die with a bang, it will go out with a whimper.  But when it dies, it will be because of the overriding benefits of cloud computing and desktop virtualization.  Forty years ago, the buzzword of the day was 'word processing.'  As the PC market collided with a workforce that was used to typewriters (remember those?) some companies adapted and thrived (think IBM); some companies capitalized in the short term but lost in the long term (Wang, for example); others exist today as a shell of their former selves (remember Smith-Corona?). 

Cloud computing and virtualization have created the infrastructure to put the PC market in the same position as typewriter vendors in the early 1970s.  Wyse and companies like us are right in the middle of making the decisions, both product and strategic, that we expect to resonate for years to come.  


About the Author

Jeff McNaught leads Wyse strategy, marketing and customer support activities. Mr. McNaught is widely considered the most quoted spokesperson for thin computing in the world. With the experience of hundreds of speaking engagements, articles, and press interviews, he is considered an authority on the topics of thin computing, Green IT, desktop virtualization and cloud computing. Mr. McNaught co-invented and spearheaded the development of the award-winning Wyse Winterm thin clients, the first enterprise thin clients to ship in volume, now with millions of units in use worldwide. Mr. McNaught joined the Wyse team in 1987 after holding positions at ITT, Netexpress, Tandy, and Cromemco. He earned his MBA from Pepperdine University.

Published Friday, December 17, 2010 6:05 AM by David Marshall
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