What direction for the corporate desktop?

I have seen a number of mentions of a new thin client terminal by a company called Pano Logic. Their claim is to be the “future of desktop computing”, to which they are focused more on the corporate than the home desktop. Thin client is essentially where corporate computing began, with all compute power centralised and users running from dumb terminals.

There have been multiple attempts to resurrect the theory, Sun being one of the more recent attempts. Terminal services are common in most organisations, although the terminal sessions are almost always run on full desktops rather than on specialised terminal devices. While most of the PC vendors launched specialsed terminal versions in the early 2000’s all dropped them when the market did not materialise as expected.

Pano has added a few things to the model. Their box has no moving parts at all and the client is completely embedded in the firmware. They also have some graphical redirection IP embedded in which allows them to offer a 1600×1200 desktop. They have also packaged the whole thing into a small and attractive case. If you take a look at your site you will see that they definitely get good marks for industrial styling.

I feel though that this product is likely to suffer the same fate of previous attempts at resurrecting this market. PC’s are just too cheap, and users like to have local storage. Once the cost of the monitor is removed, a corporate PC typically runs well under $1000 and with current SOE images can be treated as essentially a commodity component. For most organisations the cost of desktop support is in the applications not the hardware.

A technology more likely to take hold is a new one from Citrix that allows any computer to easily run a corporate desktop. Essentially it means that rather than using your employer supplied notebook, you could use your own at work. Your company would give you an allowance to fund that device. Also when you connected to a VPN service from your home computer, you would get the complete service of your corporate login rather than restricted services.

With the hypervisor ready platforms that are available today switching between personal and corporate images would be quick and seamless. I talk with many corporate IT groups in my day job, and a large number of them are looking at ways to do just this. Rather than manage a hardware SOE they want to be able to purchase whatever is easiest for them. With notebook users they are also sick of meeting all the requests for the latest trendy notebook. As these requests often come from executives and senior management they are often hard to ignore.

While the Pano system does have a few advantages for the IT department, never underestimate the power of users to determine what the standards end up being.