Lately, there has been so much focus on cloud computing that we often forget what corollary benefits arise as a result of deploying a private cloud or using a public cloud. I won’t get into the definition of cloud computing or the various types of clouds since I have already done that at length in other posts. For the sake of this article, let’s just assume that you have already deployed both the cloud and the applications that lie in it. Let’s also assume that these applications are web-based and that they scale automatically on the back-end. This is, of course, the ideal situation and why we discuss cloud computing to begin with.
We have immediate savings in the reduced hardware needed to serve up a cloud application and the reduced man-hours required to maintain the infrastructure that powers the cloud. We also save immediately from the multi-tenant nature of the cloud as well as the reduced power and cooling needed to power the cloud as compared to traditional application server silos. The savings does not end there, however, and that is where we start to look at corollary benefits.
One of the largest budget busters for IT departments is desktop support. Having to maintain hundreds or thousands of individual PCs throughout the enterprise is incredibly expensive. Not only is each PC expensive to procure, having to replace bad motherboards, hard drives, RAM and other internal components is costly. The shelf life of a PC is very short, often three years or less. Even more expensive than the hardware is the man-hours required to diagnose and repair each one of these desktops. Software installation, upgrades, patches and anti-virus also become costly as they have to be done on each PC. Backup is network bandwidth intensive if it even exists at all for end user desktops. As you can see, desktop support and maintenance is a black hole for IT budgets.
So what does this have to do with cloud computing? Well, we already stated that we have converted our applications to web-based applications residing in the cloud. The resources needed to run a web browser are far less than the resources needed to run desktop software. Even office suites are web based applications today. If we no longer need massive resources to run locally installed applications, then why do we need full blown desktops at each user’s desk? The truth is that we do not.
If all or most of our day to day business applications are deployed in a web-based format, we only need a web browser and the resources to run it. Virtual Desktops and Remote Desktop Services (formerly Terminal Services) are a perfect fit for this scenario. Virtual Desktops, give you more flexibility in customizing user desktops and application sets. This comes in handy when you still have a number of different locally installed applications that need to be split up among different user groups or business units. If you have deployed all or most of your applications in a web-based format, and the remaining locally installed applications (like an office suite) are common to all desktops, then you don’t really need virtual desktops; Remote Desktop Services is the answer. Both of these solutions allow you to replace the desktops with thin clients which have no moving (read user serviceable) parts and much longer shelf lives. Some thin clients, like the SunRay Thin Client from Sun Microsystems have a shelf life well over a decade. Wouldn’t you rather replace units every ten to twelve years rather than every three?
I can clearly see a day when most applications are removed from the desktop and server based computing (Virtual Desktops and Remote Desktop Services) with thin clients supplant the desktop. Once your enterprise reaches this scenario, it is game over for the corporate desktop PC as we know it. Your enterprise will now be maximizing efficiency from the end user to the data center. Costs will be decreased significantly and change management will now happen in one place – the data center. Gold images of user environments will remove the need to install, upgrade, patch and secure at the end user PC. Power consumption will be drastically reduced as thin clients use around one percent of the power a PC consumes and user density drives similar power savings at the server. Why deal with the current desktop PC management, maintenance, repair and support headache? Push for cloud computing backed web-based applications and server based computing with thin clients. It’s just the right thing to do.