Wouldn’t it be nice to just flip a switch and have your PC experience turn on and off on whatever device you chose? To be able to start a document on your desktop or laptop PC and finish it on your tablet or even your Smartphone? That has always been the unmet promise of those pitching thin client solutions, the idea that your PC experience could work like electricity - it is everywhere and as easy as an on/off switch to get to.
At VMworld this week, NVIDIA, Google, and VMware announced a joint initiative to make this a reality and Microsoft is undoubtedly going to race them to see who can get there first - likely also using NVIDIA technology. Microsoft competes with Google and VMware but NVIDIA Grid is still both relatively unique and the most common platform used by IBM, VCE, Dell and other vendors looking to provide this kind of service today.
Let’s Talk A Bit About Thin Clients and this announcement.
Why Thin Clients Haven’t Worked
Around 15 years ago, Sun (which is no longer with us) and Oracle came up with a brilliant idea. PCs were just too complex and unreliable and they drove forward a concept where the PC was replaced by an appliance that would instantly turn off and on and where the user never had to worry about upgrades or maintenance. Unfortunately, their idea depended on network performance and servers that didn’t exist at the time and the end result was an incredibly expensive solution with performance substantially below what you could get in a PC. Oracle walked away from the platform, Sun implemented it internally and then failed and I think there is at least a partial cause and effect there.
But they didn’t go away and today HP and Dell are the dominant providers of technology for companies that fall under this thin client model. Though these largely remained as low performing data entry solutions even as they matured - largely because even though networking capability got cheaper and better, servers in the market didn’t work that well.
Google has been making advancements recently with Chromebooks but only in education and largely because Microsoft wasn’t ready to respond with initiatives of their own. That has changed and now there is a clear battle between these two vendors with very different approaches in the education market. The thing is that education doesn’t have a ton of money and the fact that Google can play there suggests that you can now provide a thin client solution that is affordable and acceptable to at least some segments as a PC replacement.
Part of the performance issue was that it was hard to divide up servers successfully so that different users at different times could get the performance they needed without having a massive amount of expensive extra performance that folks didn’t use. VMware stepped in with tools that allowed a server to be better segmented and thus more affordable as the host for PC replacement. But the hardware itself just wasn’t optimized for this task.
This brings us to NVIDIA Grid which is at the core of this announcement. This is a server designed from the ground up to provide thin client services in line with a gaming PC and shift loads dynamically based on the needs of the user.
I never really understood why it took so long to figure out we needed specialized server hardware given both Oracle and Sun were server focused companies to begin with. You’d have figured they’d get that part right first and we wouldn’t have had to wait for a graphics firm to step in with the fix. Then again, because the performance problems were generally surrounding the graphics side of the solution, maybe it took someone like NVIDIA to figure it out.
The end result is we now have all of the parts to create a PC experience that is a lot closer to the TV experience you currently have.
What This Means
What this means is that in a relatively short time many of you will have the option of having your computing experience change dramatically. No more patches, someone else toworries about viruses, and all your stuff, including apps, will move from your big screens (including TVs) to your small screens (including smartphones). You’ll be able to get to your work stuff at home and your home stuff at work (if your company allows it) and the folks at work won’t get access to your personal stuff anymore (not unless you agree to let them).
Wrapping Up: Competition Where You Want It
I think the interesting thing is that now, Google and Microsoft will increasingly be competing to see who can provide the simplest appliance like experience. I tend to think that is a good thing because it will focus both firms on making things simpler and less annoying. In the end, the world of tomorrow will be one hell of a lot different (hopefully better) than the world of today and computing will be far less annoying. We still have a few more things to fix- like streaming services in airplanes, but we’ll likely get there by the end of the decade. PC use in the 2020s should be amazing as a result.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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