virtual-desktops-2010As Windows 7's October 22 arrival approaches, The VAR Guy is hearing more and more buzz about virtualized Windows and Linux desktops -- including an imminent announcement from Red Hat. Looking ahead, our resident blogger thinks the virtualized desktop market is ripe for channel partners. Here's why.

Anytime Microsoft launches a major desktop operating system upgrade it forces a market inflection point. The decision tree typically involves three clear options...

Should channel partners and customers:
  1. hold firm to their Windows XP and Vista desktops?
  2. dabble in Mac OS X or Linux desktops?
  3. or make the move to Windows 7?
But as Windows 7 approaches a fourth option is gaining momentum: Desktop virtualization. Skeptical? Consider some of the recent buzz:
  • IBM is working with Canonical (promoter of Ubuntu Linux) and Virtual Bridges to offer virtualized Ubuntu desktops on Linux servers. True believers include Midas Networks, a managed service provider in Austin, Texas. Virtual Bridges CEO Jim Curtin has built profitable relationships with IBM before, and he sees considerable opportunity for virtualized desktops in emerging economies.
  • ICC Global Hosting unveiled a virtual desktop hosting partnership program during CompTIA Breakaway 2009. The program allows VARs to promote and profit from hosted virtual desktops that ICC Global Hosting manages.
  • Pano Logic continues to evangelize Pano Device, a so-called zero client that supports virtual instances of Windows XP running on a VMware ESX or ESXi server.
  • Red Hat is expected to announce more of its virtual desktop strategy during Red Hat Summit (Sept. 1-4, Chicag0). Red Hat acquired Qumranet in September 2008 to help accelerate the company's virtual desktop strategy.
  • Synchron of Austin, Texas (ironically, a neighbor of Virtual Bridges) is quietly building a partner program for its virtualized OnDemand desktop offering.
And in a more traditional market approach, Parallels and VMware, respectively, continue to help VARs and customers mix-and-match virtualized operating systems on PCs and Macs.

Money Matters

Now, the key question: Can desktop virtualization really generate profits for VARs? In some cases the answer appears to be a promising yes. At ICC Global Hosting, partners can earn recurring revenue for each customer they transition to hosted virtual desktops. And more than a dozen channel partners have signed up to support the IBM-Canonical-Virtual Bridges strategy.

Still, let's not get carried away. Though promising, Virtual Desktops aren't perfect. Plenty of folks continue to demand full-blown PCs simply because they prefer powerful devices that can run a range of applications even without a network connection. Also, organizations that have intermittent broadband connections may not want to have their virtualized desktops hosted by an outside provider.

Ultimately, the desktop virtualization market sounds quiet a bit like a next-generation successor to the thin client market. So it's safe to expect virtualized desktops to surface within settings where thin clients first emerged -- health care, retail and so forth.

But longer term, virtualized desktops could go broader. Surely, some CIOs and their channel partners have grown tired of remote support, security and administration issues tied to PCs.

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