The PC as portal

In my column Absorbing the PC I suggest that virtualizaton will do for PC blades what it has already done for blade servers: create a powerful consolidation platform.

What I didn't mention, however, was that there is a bit of irony in all of this. Consider that virtualization was spawned by IBM on the mainframe many years ago. Now as the PC platform matures, that same legacy mainframe technology could help pull legions of renegade PCs back into the data center, where management and security are more cost effective. The approach could be particularly effective in areas such as call center PCs.

Virtualizaton is just one of the many mainframe technologies being absorbed into the distributed computing space. But the reverse is also true: technologies developed in the distributed computing space are migrating upward. What that cross-pollination will mean for the mainframe is the subject of an upcoming feature. Look for it in the January 30th issue of Computerworld.

Another interesting aspect to PC blades is that they address the "not enough power" issue of other virtualization schemes, such as Citrix Presentation Server. In that arrangement PC environments are run on a shared server with screen and keyboard data routed to thin clients, but power users may find performance on shared servers too sluggish. With PC blades users can use those same thin clients to access as much computer power as their usage profile and role demands, while others who perform data entry are allotted a slice of a PC blade. The combination of PC blades and virtualization makes that possible. Smarter, more dynamic allocation of underlying hardware resources to virtual machines can help preserve the user experience while allowing applications and data to reside and execute in the data center.

That strategy won't work everywhere, of course. Mobile users will always need a laptop. However, where their applications reside and where they execute are likely to vary depending on the location of the user and the nature of the application. Some will be stored and run locally, as they are now. Others may be managed as a central image, streamed to the PC where they can be cached and executed locally. Others may be fully virtualized within Presentation Server sessions or browser windows. But increasingly, the PC is no longer be the center of the user's experience. It is simply a window into a virtualized workspace.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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