Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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8/27/2009
09:52 AM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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VMware CTO On Virtualizing Smartphones, And More

I recently spoke with VMware CTO Stephen Herrod, and what he had to say about virtualized desktops, "employee-owned" IT, and why it may make sense to put virtual desktops on an iPhone will make some CIOs uneasy--and some ecstatic.

I recently spoke with VMware CTO Stephen Herrod, and what he had to say about virtualized desktops, "employee-owned" IT, and why it may make sense to put virtual desktops on an iPhone will make some CIOs uneasy--and some ecstatic.Herrod, who's prepping for next week's VMworld, talked about a range of VMware businesses, but the desktop and smartphone virtualization struck me as the biggest challenges to status quo IT thinking.

Start with a trend that Herrod's watching closely--"employee-owned IT," where employees get a stipend to spend on a PC or smartphone of their choice. It's an idea easy to dismiss as impractical or even gimmicky, but Herrod thinks desktop virtualization will make it increasingly appealing to both IT and employees. IT can control and manage the part of the PC they want by delivering the virtual desktop for work from a data center, while leaving the Facebook, games, and Jessica Biel downloads on the employee's personal operating system. (On the opposite end of the control spectrum, for companies that want zero personal activity on a PC, VMware's working with Intel on a bare metal desktop hypervisor, due next year, so the only way to run a PC is on a virtual desktop served from the company's data center.)

But is employee-owned IT really a mass market, or just something the consultants and ad agencies and a few tech companies will get? Herrod says,

I really don't know the answer to that. It would be wrong to say it's a mass market yet. But almost every single CIO I talk to says, "You mean I can get out of the 'My employee broke a laptop and wants it fixed immediately' market?" They all want to not own that piece of the infrastructure if possible, if it can still be secure.

Herrod applies the same employee-owned IT logic to smartphones, where employee passion for particular devices runs even hotter. VMware is testing smartphone virtual machines with as-yet-unnamed partners, so that IT teams can, for example, let people use their iPhone on the job running a work-issued Android virtual machine for business e-mail and application access. "The number of people at least at VMware who have their cool device and their work device is rather large," he says.

VMware's doing all this so, no matter what the future desktop looks like, it can get a piece of the action. Herrod even proposes most of us will get our consumer desktops someday as online services from our Internet provider, to avoid the cost of securing and maintaining an on premises desktop. Says Herrod,

We think the key is there's going to be a mashup of applications-you might use Gmail or have some hosted documents, you might have some Windows apps you care about, and you might have some Mac apps. We really view this world as pooling a collection of your persona and applications together into whatever device you're using.

Desktop virtualization's going to remain a tough sell to many CIOs. It lacks the killer ROI from lower capital costs that made server virtualization one of this decade's IT blockbusters. Desktop virtualization doesn't have those clear-cut hardware savings, and instead the advantages are things like data security, more agile workforces, better remote access, and higher availability. Herrod says health care and financial services are the early, big adopters. So maybe it'll be PC virtualization that's at the center of your alternative desktop model, or maybe it'll be smartphones, or netbooks, or high-powered tablets, or employee-owned IT … just don't count on the steady-state desktop strategies we've had for the last decade to hold up for even the next few years.

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