The desktop virtualization market was chugging along at a decent albeit unspectacular pace before Apple's iPad arrived and helped crystallize the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept. Since then, the iPad has become the main onramp for companies looking to mobilize their work forces through the use of virtualization.
Executives were the first to bring the iPad into the workplace, but before long all types of employees were clamoring for the ability to access corporate desktops and applications from the devices. The phenomenon, and the speed with which it took hold, surprised solution providers. "People are demanding access to their applications with the device of their choosing," said Dan Weiss, CEO and co-founder of Varrow, a virtualization solution provider in Greensboro, N.C.
Windows 7 migrations were expected to be the coming out party for desktop virtualization, and the iPad is now one of the primary devices contributing to the festivities. "The single greatest driver for desktop virtualization right now isn't Windows 7, it's the iPad," said Mike Strohl, president of Entisys, a Concord, Calif.-based virtualization VAR. "IT departments in many organizations are responding to a massive wave of iPads in their user base."
Companies are now well acquainted with the productivity gains to be reaped from the combination of iPads and virtualization. Citrix Systems last December polled nearly 5,000 iPad owners who use the devices for work and found that 46 percent said they're more productive. And 13 percent of respondents said the iPad is a mission critical component of their job.
Entisys sold "millions of dollars" of desktop virtualization technology in the last quarter alone, the majority of which has been driven by iPad related services, according to Strohl. One Entisys customer recently signed off on a desktop virtualization deal that included the purchase of 6,000 iPads for use by the company's mobile employees. Another customer, a major East Coast financial firm, is planning a project involving iPads and some 15,000 virtual desktop users.
The single greatest selling point for both customers, Strohl said, was Entisys' ability to show running full desktops and applications running on the iPad using virtualization. "Pretty much every scenario we go into involves a demo that includes an iPad. They're extremely effective conversation starters and deal closers," he said.
Hogan Consulting Group, a Chesterton, Ind.-based solution provider with a large healthcare practice, is also seeing a growing tide of iPad related business. "Almost overnight, we started seeing hospitals getting requests from doctors that want to run their apps on the iPad when they're walking around the hospital, said CEO Mike Hogan."We had existing projects on the table that suddenly got amped up because of the iPad's arrival."
Next: The iPad's appeal spreads
The insurance industry is another emerging area for iPad and virtualization deployments. But interest isn't limited to verticals -- companies in every business sector are looking to leverage the combination of tablets and virtualization as a more cost effective, secure way of enabling their mobile workers.
"The bottom line is that tablets can now very easily access corporate resources and applications. We're getting e-mails every day from customers asking about how to get their applications and desktops on the iPad," Hogan said.
Of course, the iPad no longer has the tablet market to itself. New entrants like Samsung's Galaxy Tab, HP's forthcoming webOS powered TouchPad and a veritable army of Android tablets give companies plenty of devices to choose from. And vendors like Citrix and Wyse are keeping pace with the new arrivals by releasing software that brings access to corporate desktops and applications to these tablets.
The opportunity for solution providers lies in expanding virtualization implementations to get more applications and desktops functioning for their customers. Ensuring the smooth delivery of enterprise class applications to the iPad and other tablets through virtualization is an area that's still relatively untapped, according to solution providers.
Weiss said companies see the benefits of virtualization and iPads but have concerns about whether they can offer adequate functionality for legacy applications. Client side software for the iPad and other non-Windows devices lacks maturity at this stage of the game, Weiss said, making it tough for IT to keep up with what features will and won’t work.
All of this is tricky because what works well for a Windows or thin-client device may be a challenge when running the application from a tablet. "Many tablets run operating systems that aren't familiar to internal IT, and the required client software for these devices isn't nearly as mature as their Windows device counterparts," Weiss said.
Application usability, security and performance can also be challenges when implementing a virtual desktop environment with tablets, Weiss added. "Client-side software is still missing key features such as session encryption, straightforward pointing device functionality and bandwidth optimization," he said.
User location is another variable that must be taken into account when mapping out an iPad virtualization project. "If users are in the same building as the infrastructure, that solution looks a lot different than if all users are remote all the time," Weiss said. "The ideal scenario is on-premise, inside the company building -- or in the same vicinity as the data center -- but it's rare that you find that."
Next: The iPad's huge head start
Hogan said providing security on the network perimeter for iPad users is another service that can generate high margins for the channel. "These assessments typically involve looking at the infrastructure and even creating some secure 'enclaves' to allow certain types of applications and data to be delivered to the iPad," he said.
Apple has a big head start with the iPad, which accounted for 93 percent of the tablet market in the third quarter of 2010, according to recent data from research firm ABI. Samsung's Galaxy Tab has had modest success in its first few months on the market but isn’t eating significant chunks of Apple's market share. Motorola's Xoom looks like the next potential challenger to the iPad but its hefty price tag could slow its progress.
At this point, though, Strohl doesn't think HP's TouchPad tablet, Galaxy Tab, or any of the other Android tablets have much of a chance of matching the iPad's popularity among businesses, even though newer tablets are being designed with security and manageability features for corporate virtualization deployments.
"I don't see all those other ones taking on the same importance. Tablets are consumer driven, but the new devices coming out are more like corporate devices," Strohl said. "I don't see organizations turning around and saying you can't use iPad, use these other tablets instead."