Gartner thinks we are embracing virtual desktops in a big way. Its data indicates that the technology will account for 70 million units and 40 percent of the market by 2015 (up from a 2010 projection of 40 million units in 2013).

In Key Trends to Watch in Gartner 2012 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle (September 9, 2012) Forbes’ Hung LeHone and Jackie Fenn note that hosted virtual desktops are currently progressing quickly through the Trough of Disillusionment and should start delivering predictable value in less than two years (2014 or sooner).

The introduction of several thousand DaaS products suggests that at least the market is doing its part to support this projection.

DaaS is VDI Just Cheaper

An article by Paul Rubens at Enterprise Networking Planet (September 4, 2012) helps to explain why desktop virtualization is moving quickly through the Hype Cycle. As Rubens points out, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and desktop as a service (DaaS) are really the same technology. But DaaS has no upfront capital costs.

Rubens also says the overall market is growing because service costs are declining, use of public and private clouds is increasing, and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) schemes are being embraced by business.

Gartner’s data suggests many companies are either actively migrating to virtual desktops or seriously weighing the move. Among these firms, the question likely is whether to go with traditional VDI or a public or private cloud based on DaaS.

Which to Choose: VDI or DaaS

Anyone having this DaaS or VDI conversation should check out Logan Harbaugh’s piece at PC World (March 22, 2012). He does a good job of highlighting the pros and cons of desktop virtualization.

Overall, Harbaugh notes that desktop virtualization can lower costs and add capabilities, but it can also create upfront expenses (if kept in-house) and lower worker productivity (if resources are not reliable).

Similarly, Rubens says customers need to evaluate the technology carefully before adopting an approach. Traditional VDI and DaaS can suffer from bandwidth limitations and latency issues. He also notes the following:

“Arguably the main barrier to DaaS is not technological at all, but legal. ‘Right now the biggest challenge for DaaS is licensing,’ [Gartner’s Gunnar] Berger said. The issue is a complex one, and revolves around the fact the Microsoft does not offer a Service Provider Licensing Agreement for Windows 7. This doesn’t prevent DaaS service providers from offering Windows desktops, but it does make it more complicated and costly than it otherwise would be and involves dedicating the software and the hardware it runs on to individual clients.”

It is possible that Microsoft will address licensing as part of Windows 8, but so far there has been no movement on this issue.

About zero-client VDI

Rubens also mentions zero-client (also called ultrathin client) technology, which might accelerate VDI and DaaS by lowering deployments costs. Zero-client hardware is interesting since it eliminates drivers, processors, and local storage. Whether those savings are sufficient to help justify the case for adopting virtualization is not clear—particularly when you consider that backend storage is up to 40 percent of total costs.

The complexity of desktop virtualization is why at least one industry publication is cautious about the technology. In “A Cloudy Year Ahead for Desktop Virtualization?” ITBusinessEdge’s Arthur Cole recaps some of the key issues that are continuing to influence the decision-making process, and he also mentions several newish offers vendors are pursuing to broaden the strategy’s appeal.

Cole includes an observation that we think is spot on: That is, for growth beyond wealthy customers, costs for desktop virtualization must drop dramatically. Until that happens, desktop virtualization vendors will have a hard time appealing to smaller companies with tighter budgets.

2013 could be the breakthrough year for desktop virtualization—especially if costs continue to decline and thorny licensing issues are resolved. For anyone involved in enterprise infrastructure, it will be interesting to see if DaaS’s ability to promote access really begins to drive wider adoption.

What do you think? Is DaaS a game changer that the virtual desktop needs to take off? Is there a current solution that provides the ease-of-use and affordability that smaller companies require? Has anyone tried a zero-client? How will Microsoft resolve the licensing issue (or will they)?