Top 10 reasons why the enterprise desktop isn't dead yet

While the PC sales decline is matched by rising mobile device usage, it's too soon to claim that the enterprise desktop is dead, says our columnist.

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Although the PC sales decline is undeniable, the enterprise desktop still has some life in it -- at least for now. Here are 10 reasons why PC usage persists.

1. Enterprise desktops are cheap.

One of the biggest things that enterprise desktops have going for them is that PCs are cheap. PC hardware prices have steadily declined over the years, and continue to do so as PC manufacturers struggle due to a declining market. In contrast, technologies such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) tend to be expensive to deploy.

2. Rip and replace is not cost-effective.

While we are talking about cost, another thing that the enterprise PC has going for it is the simple fact that rip and replace is an expensive strategy. If an organization already has desktops in place, and those PCs are getting the job done, then it may not make sense from a business standpoint to remove and replace them with other devices. In the case of desktop virtualization, however, existing PCs might initially be used as VDI clients.

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3. Some applications work best on PCs.

Sometimes organizations are forced to continue PC usage because certain applications just work best on PCs. This is particularly true of apps that are CPU- or memory-intensive or that are sensitive to latency. For example, right now, I am dictating this article using speech-recognition software. The software probably would not work very well in a VDI environment.

4. Change can be uncomfortable.

Sometimes the human factor plays into the decision to continue using PCs. In any organization, there are people who are resistant to change. Abandoning desktop PCs -- which have been the norm for 30 years -- in favor of virtual desktops or user-owned mobile devices can be an uncomfortable change.

5. Sometimes there are special hardware considerations.

Sometimes an enterprise must continue PC usage because of hardware requirements alone. Some types of specialized hardware simply will not work with virtual desktops or with mobile devices. For example, some high-end scanners will work only with PCs.

6. The security infrastructure is probably PC-based.

One of the most important reasons why the enterprise desktop may be around for a while is because the existing security infrastructure in many organizations is based around the use of PCs. Admins often use Group Policy settings that are intended specifically for PCs. These settings can be adapted to virtual PCs, but they may require some major reworking to account for differences between physical and the virtual environments.

More importantly, however, group policies can be applied only to a device that has been joined to an Active Directory domain. While it is possible to join a virtual PC to an Active Directory domain, mobile devices (which are another competing solution) cannot generally be joined unless they are running Windows. Microsoft will soon allow a non-Windows device to be secured by means of a workplace join, but that solution has not yet been released for production use.

7. Enterprise desktops are simple.

Another compelling reason why PCs may be around for a while is that PCs are relatively simple. If a problem occurs in a VDI environment, troubleshooting that problem can be a major ordeal. In contrast, PC-related problems are usually isolated to a single machine and are normally easily resolvable.

8. Some have reliability concerns about VDI.

VDI deployments can be made fault-tolerant through the use of clustering and other redundant mechanisms. However, if a problem were to occur at the VDI level -- as opposed to a server-level problem -- then the problem could potentially affect every user in the organization. In contrast, if a PC were to have a problem, then that problem only affects the user of that one PC.

9. PCs are highly customizable.

Another reason why PCs may be the best choice in some situations is because PCs are highly customizable. Virtual desktops can also be customized to at least some extent, but not the point that PCs can be customized. For example, it is relatively easy to add memory or additional processing power to both PCs and virtual PCs. However, if you have users who need to perform tasks such as video editing or 3-D computer-aided design, they will most likely need a high-end video card. That's something that you can't really provide in a virtual PC environment.

10. PCs just work.

One last reason why enterprise desktops will probably be around for a while is because it does not make sense to replace something that is working. Why replace Windows XP if it still works for some IT shops? If you stop and think about it, there are still plenty of organizations that are running obsolete OSes such as Windows XP or Windows 2000. For these organizations, there is no reason for them to upgrade to a newer OS. They probably aren't going to be phasing out enterprise PCs anytime soon.

As you can see, there are a number of reasons why the enterprise desktop isn't yet extinct. This isn't to say that PCs will be around forever, but at least for now, PCs will remain the device of choice in many organizations.

This was first published in September 2013

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