IDC Research reports that US desktop computer sales slumped another 10 percent in 2014. Despite a modest increase in laptop sales, single computer sales were in negative territory.
Consumer desktop purchases are way off, and businesses are cutting back, too. It’s obvious that the surge in smartphone and tablet sales is partly to blame. And while not all corporate employees are mobile, more companies are embracing BYOD to reduce costs.
Is the desktop computer going the way of the dinosaur? And if so, what will take its place?
Consumers aren’t doing without – they’re doing with less
Today’s mobile devices have become so versatile that consumers can often get by without a computer at home.
When the Apple iPad first debuted in 2010, the larger device was more comfortable for home users to interact with. It was also portable, and users could access thousands of low-cost apps – giving it almost any function of a desktop system. Other tablets followed with their own app stores. The tablet computer had arrived.
In short, many home users could do everything they did before, but with a smaller, more mobile device. Email, online shopping, documents, spreadsheets, gaming – without all the bulk and wires.
So they delayed or stopped replacing their aging PCs. Many millennials skip the PCs and laptops altogether.
BYOD lets companies get by with less – but not none
Companies and their workers also discovered smartphones and tablets. In fact, many companies now allow workers to use their own mobile devices for work – including laptops.
But while consumers can manage with only mobile devices, the same isn’t true for company employees. When crunching numbers, designing artwork or just multitasking, smartphones and tablets don’t always work. Employee-owned devices also come with increased security risks.
The only practical way to handle this has been to provide a locked-down computer for each employee. Since the typical lifespan of a desktop is about four years, IT must always budget for some replacements each year.
It’s time the desktop goes virtual
Virtualization separates the desktop environment from the device an employee uses to access it. In other words, the user may interact with a familiar desktop on his screen, but the computing power and storage is elsewhere.
VDI has been around for several years, with varying degrees of success. What’s held it back? Immature network infrastructure, slow software, high hardware costs – just to name a few.
With today’s high-speed networks and the cloud, desktop virtualization is both workable and cost-effective. In fact, Gartner and Cisco research now project an installed base of 60 million virtualized desktops by end of 2015.
Instead of expensive appliances and in-house expertise, Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) offers a flexible and affordable alternative. With DaaS providers, a company can lease low-cost VDI terminals to replace aging desktops. For mobile users, the provider can install a thin-client application on laptop and tablets. In either case, the device accesses and loads the user’s profile and “desktop” on demand.
With DaaS, IT departments cut the constant expense of maintaining, patching and replacing desktops. And because the desktop is virtual, the data and documents stay within the secure cloud environment. That reduces the risk of mishandling confidential information.
Are desktops virtually gone?
Despite the slowdown in PC sales, the desktop isn’t gone. It’s just changing form.
Consumers are shifting to mobile devices only. But businesses have more intense computing needs and security concerns. They tend to favor retaining their desktop environments. Yet, these devices demand a significant replacement budget and constant maintenance.
With the cloud, virtualization is a mature and cost-effective alternative to traditional desktop architecture. DaaS providers can provide powerful and secure computing environments for each employee. And IT can save the cost, maintenance and security headaches of in-house solutions.
Where have all the desktops gone? They’re still around. They’ve just gone virtual.