LOS ANGELES--Virtualization and cloud orchestration turned a corner here at Citrix Synergy 2013 this week, where for the first time users' Windows desktops became available on any PC, Mac, Android or iOS device, taking virtualization to its logical conclusion of allowing business users to access their desktops from any laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Cloud service providers also got a boost this week as Citrix demonstrated its IT innovation called IT-as-a-service, which allows any SP to muscle into the cloud service space that today is dominated by Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, Rackspace and a few other giants. Also at the event, Nvidia Corp. demonstrated how its virtual graphics processing unit (vGPU) capabilities can be used to run intensive cloud-based applications at speeds indistinguishable from those on a local GPU.
"The partner model is the core of our virtualization and cloud orchestration businesses," said Mark Templeton, president and CEO of Citrix Systems, Inc. (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.). "In the end, each IT organization has to be responsible for their users' experience—Citrix just serves as a proxy for them by making sure that a user's apps are always up to date. However, the content—all the data—belongs to our customers, and we make sure it is our customer's brand--not Citrix--that is prominently displayed to their users."
Mark Templeton, president and CEO of Citrix, speaks at the Citrix Synergy event.
At Citrix Synergy, the last niches of virtualization and cloud orchestration that had not yet been incorporated were demonstrated. For instance, Templeton showed a Mac, an iPad Mini and even a Samsung smartphone could run the same virtual Windows desktop applications as a Dell laptop. In keeping with Citrix virtualization and cloud orchestration model, the Windows applications were actually running in an IT datacenter, with encrypted screenshots being the only data being transmitted to the laptops, tablets and smartphones.
"Government employees, financial service officers and medical personnel are some of our biggest customers," said Dave Moxey, senior director for marketing and strategy at Citrix. "These professional users love that their data stays secure behind their corporate firewalls, but is still accessible as encrypted screenshots that can't be eavesdropped on even if a user loses their device."
Indeed everything old is new again. Way back in the mid-90s, we had dumb X terminals at home that connected to our Unix network at the office via ISDN. They had no storage and couldn't even boot without the network connection. The "cloud" was just the engineering network at the office.
In more recent years -- for many years -- I have used VNC to remote connect to PCs & Linux computers at work from wherever I am, with whatever machine I happen to have with me. That includes VNC on my iPad. Not having an actual mouse on the iPad makes things a bit clumsy for doing things on a Windows or Linux machine via the iPad, but once you learn VNC's clever ways of handling mouse emulation (even 3 button mouse emulation), it's manageable.
But none of this is new.
So many things do cycle through. I rode the decentralized computing wave and now, as you noted, things are going back the other way.
I'm a little more optimistic about phone and tablets at this point though. My vision is that the "dumb terminal" is really just a wireless keyboard, mouse and display set. The smart phone in your pocket, in a few years, will be powerful enough to handle just about any task needing local data and will be able to wirelessly connect to the dumb terminal on any desk.
The phone will have all of your connections and configurations and whatever data you feel needs to be with you at all times.
I'm amused by how everything old is new again.
When I first got involved in computing in the late 70's, the personal computer was just beginning to become established, and the original IBM PC was starting to appear on corporate desktops. The model was that work was done on a big central computer, and users interacted with it through terminals.
Now we're back to the centralized computing paradigm again, with the cloud serving as the centralized computing resource, and data and the applications that manipulate it actually residing remotely, with the user's machine becoming effectively a terminal accessing the remote resource.
I've been using remote desktop solutions for years, with things like AT&T's VNC software. The work is actually done on a remote host, and only the data needed to display the desktop on my screen is transmitted, with a protocol designed to minimize the bandwidth required.
The key here is interactive graphic applications, and the higher amount of data that must be sent to the user's device to display the current state. The concerns I can see relate to what device the user has. If I'm running a highly graphic application, I may be able to access it via my device, but can I effectively use it?
One of the issues I have with smartphones is that much of what I do graphically really needs a much larger display than any practical phone will have. I see the same only more with this sort of solution. I may be able to get to that big graphic application from my phone, but I probably won't be able to really use it.
The underlying concept looks valid, but I'm less enthusiastic about the cross-device aspects. There are a variety of things I simply wouldn't try to do from a phone or tablet, even if those devices could connect to the resources that did it.
One of the many limitations of tablet and smartphone is workspace. The screen size is not going to be a lot bigger than 10". In addition, the screen resolution is going too be limited because of price concern. I am happy to hear opinion from heavy CAD users.
Security could certainly be a big advantage for corporate and government users. In stead of needing to secure hundreds or thousands of individual PCs, a few larger systems could get dedicated attention to security. Of course, then a lot of vulnerability would be concentrated in one place.
Eventually, I expect that a lot of corporate and government computing will go this route. It may be the only way to really be secure from cyber attacks.
Remote desktop apps like teamviewer, already can connect to any desktop from any mobile device, which is decent enough for most purposes. The advantages in the case of cloud virtualization are not clear.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.