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Desktop of the future

It might be in the cloud, it might be virtual or it might be the size of a brick. But it won't be the traditional PC tower and monitor.

By Joanne Cummings, Network World
May 01, 2008 12:10 AM ET

Network World - Metro Health Hospital, a healthcare system serving 130,000 patients across Michigan, is already using what some consider the desktop of the future. The hospital has rolled out server-hosted virtual desktops to every employee no matter where they are or what client device they use.


Follow along a slideshow of the future of desktops that are happening today.


While employees within the hospital primarily use thin clients to access their virtualized desktops, those outside the hospital can use whatever device they want, says Chris House, senior network analyst at the healthcare firm.

"It works in the hospital, but it also works over the Internet because it's just Remote Desktop [Protocol]," House says, explaining that VMware's Virtual Data Infrastructure (VDI) uses RDP to communicate with the client devices.

The only data that passes across the network are mouse clicks and screen changes, ensuring optimal performance. But unlike other remote presentation technologies, such as Citrix Xen App (formerly Presentation Server), users aren't accessing only applications, but are actually able to access their complete Windows XP desktop just as if it were local.

The overall effect is greater security and flexibility — without a hit on productivity. "We have remote transcriptionists who deal with medical records and information, and they're able to access their sessions remotely from their homes over their high-speed Internet connection and then work that way," House says. "They get our desktop, and we don't have to worry about what they're using as their home computer."

Metro Health's setup is also far more secure than traditional PCs. Not only have the virtual desktops been locked down so that employees can't use non-sanctioned peripherals such as CD drives and USB sticks, but with VDI, the actual remote PC sessions run on centralized VMware ESX servers in the hospital's secure data center. This ensures that the hospital complies with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations, as sensitive patient data never leaves the hospital. "It's very secure and easy to lock down," he says.

Changing of the guard

It seems like the enterprise desktop has been the same for decades: PC tower, monitor, Windows operating system, Microsoft productivity applications. But experts say the desktop of the future may look and feel quite different. Possibilities include server-hosted desktop virtualization, the ubiquitous Microsoft Office being replaced by applications in the cloud such as Google Apps, Linux making huge inroads in terms of desktop OS, and the venerable tower PC you're probably using right now quickly becoming obsolete.

Here's a preview of what to expect over the next five years or so (read a related story on who the experts pick as the favorites in the desktop arena in five years):

One thing users and experts agree on is that the traditional PC tower is practically dead, and in five years, other form factors, such as laptops, thin clients and ultra-small computers will be more the norm.

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