iPad as virtual desktop? Citrix says yes

iPad becomes a business device with desktop virtualization

Apple's iPad could be a virtual desktop target, but employees will likely have to buy their own.

If you haven't heard yet, Apple released a new device this past weekend called the iPad. It's basically a computer and an iPhone rolled into one, but, like, 8 billion times better.

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At least, that's what people seem to think. So, if you're an IT pro you can probably expect users to be clamoring for ways to use the new, totally awesome device at work.

Luckily, there's a new technology that can turn just about any user device into a fully functioning desktop without completely sacrificing IT security rules -- it's called desktop virtualization. Citrix and Wyse Technology have already released software applications that extend Windows desktops to the Apple iPad.

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"I'm convinced it's going to be a really big hit in the enterprise," says Chris Fleck, vice president of community and solutions development at Citrix. "We see a big demand from any kind of mobile worker, and teleworkers. We see salespeople adopting it quickly because it means they can travel lighter. They can do presentations from the iPad."

But virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and other types of desktop virtualization are not yet mainstream, and businesses may rightfully wonder if their virtualization efforts should focus on thin clients instead, which are much less expensive than the iPad and have already been proven in large customer deployments.

Most likely, employees who want to use the iPad for business will have to buy their own, says Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

"I haven't talked to a client yet whose internal organization is willing to fund the iPad as a mobile device," Wolf says. "Right now, the techies in the organization are willing to buy their own. Sure, maybe IT will provide connectivity," but the iPad is not yet a device for strategic deployments of virtual desktops throughout an enterprise.

Citrix's new marketing campaign claims the iPad is "open for business," and the company released two pieces of software to the iPad App Store that enable business use of the consumer-focused device. Citrix Receiver lets iPad users access corporate applications and documents, while Citrix GoToMeeting offers Web conferencing capabilities.

With Citrix Receiver, customers can connect iPads to existing implementations of Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop to deliver Windows applications and desktops to the iPad. Security is strong, Fleck says, because applications are running in the data center rather than on the endpoint itself.

Wyse Technology, which sells thin clients, also released an iPad app that provides access to Windows-based virtual PCs and supports multiple virtualization technologies, including VMware View and Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol.

VMware hasn't made any iPad announcements, and one VMware employee has expressed skepticism about using the iPad as a virtual desktop client. VMware application performance engineer Todd Muirhead wrote in January that the iPad seems like a good device for reading books and checking out Facebook, but not for getting a lot of work done on a desktop.

Citrix says the iPad will be ideal for healthcare workers, salespeople, insurance and real estate agents, and other types of professionals, and has more potential in businesses than the iPhone. But Fleck acknowledges that most early deployments will rely on employees buying their own devices.

"I believe, at least initially, it's going to be a bring-your-own scenario. The iPad will be the door opener for the bring-your-own model," he says.

While enterprises may be reluctant to buy iPads for workers, the device itself should work well with virtual desktop technology, Wolf says. Word processing, PowerPoint presentations and other types of applications should work well with Apple's latest computer.

"It's an interesting mobile client device," Wolf says. "It certainly could be used to access virtual desktops. But it could also be used for software-as-a-service applications."

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