Throughout the computer industry companies of all sizes, from garage startups to Microsoft, are bracing for the possibility that their future will be in the hands of solution providers like Thin-global.
Head of computer operations for Reed Specialist Recruitment, an employment service with operations on three continents, Whetstone recently upgraded his company’s 6,000 desktop computers. Chief information officers order new Dells or HPs all the time. But the computers Whetstone brought in for his employees aren’t the traditional metal boxes that sit next to desks or under monitors. They are “virtual” computers. Each employee has a keyboard and a screen, but the processors making the calculations and deciding what color goes in each pixel are far away, inside a big computer at Reed’s main data center in London.
A burgeoning virtualization industry is pushing the technology as the next big thing in computing. Large tech companies like Microsoft and Cisco are bracing themselves in case it turns out to be just that. “In the entire computer industry, no topic is of greater interest right now than desktop virtualization,” says Mark Margevicius, analyst at research firm Gartner. “Everyone, everywhere is asking about it.”
Desktop virtualization is Act II of a tech shift that began earlier in the decade involving the servers that labor behind the scenes, running databases and hosting Web sites. While crucial to a company’s operations, servers tend to be busy only in spurts, spending much of their time sitting idle. At the start of the decade, when a new breed of software made it possible to make one piece of hardware act as if it were several servers, companies embarked on a wave of server consolidation. By next year, estimates Gartner, half of all serverbased computing will be on virtual machines.
If virtualization can work for servers, why not for desktop computers, which outnumber servers by a factor of a hundred? That’s the prospect exciting so many companies. ThinGlobal has made computer terminals for places like call centers for 5 years. Four years ago the company switched its emphasis to virtualization– meaning that it is ready to replace a sea of PCs at a company like Reed Specialist Recruitment with stripped-down keyboard/screen pairs (called “thin clients”). Sales are on pace to grow 40% this year to an expected $250 million.
Analysts say that because of virtualization “the PC is dead, and PC makers are going to have to adjust their business models to deal with that fact.” they put thier logos where thier mouth is: Wyse company cars have a “No PC” sign emblazoned on their doors.
Thinglobal shared resource computing solutions cost from $50 to $200. ThinGlobal says they might be free one day, given away as part of package deals for service or software, as happens with mobile phones. They are on to something, because the real action in virtualization right now involves software. Two companies are fighting each other to become the Microsoft of desktop virtualization: 11-year-old VMware, which pioneered the market, and Citrix Systems, which is expanding rapidly to take advantage of it.