No 'tipping point' yet in PC alternatives, Intel says

But the chip maker is planning for growth in demand for server-based systems and will have products for it

Intel has released survey data it has gathered in an effort to find out what PC alternatives are winning the hearts and minds of its customers. The short answer from the survey is this: None of them.

Other than Terminal Services, which include Citrix Presentation Server and Microsoft Terminal Server, Intel said that users haven't anointed any other alternative -- including desktop virtualization, application and operating system streaming, or blade PCs -- as a clear favorite.

Finding out which technology will make the most inroads in the enterprise isn't an idle question for Intel, said Mike Ferron-Jones, Intel's manager of its emerging model program. "Knowing this is really important because it informs how we are going to build our products," he said. With desktop virtualization, for instance, the question is, "How do we optimize our server products for dishing out high volumes of client virtual machines to thin clients?"

Intel conducted online interviews with more than 700 IT managers at medium-to-large-size companies to gather its data. The respondents were qualified to ensure they had some decision-making roles, Ferron-Jones said.

The survey found, for instance, that 64 per cent of the companies were using Terminal Services, a well-established technology, and were deploying them to about 26 per cent of their clients. In two years, that will rise to about 34 per cent.

But among the broader spectrum of alternatives, Intel said users have no clear favorite. For instance, 39 per cent of the respondents said they had some current deployment of desktop virtualization, including installations such as testing and pilots. But the survey found that users were deploying desktop virtualization to only 8 per cent of their clients.

Other models looked at include application streaming, with 30 per cent of the users reporting some deployment; operating system streaming, 15 per cent; and blade PCs, 26 per cent.

But when asked what percentages of clients were using any of these models, as with desktop virtualization, the numbers were much smaller: applications streaming, 11 per cent; operating system streaming, 3 per cent; and blade PCs, 6 per cent. But the survey points to increasing deployment in all of these technologies. As a percentage of client deployments, Intel's survey shows increases ranging from 50 per cent to more than 100 per cent over two years, although the overall percentage remained relatively low.

"What the data is showing is we haven't hit the tipping point on one particular model yet," Ferron-Jones said.

Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC, said he wasn't surprised by Intel's findings. "I think they are correct that it's still too early to tell," he said.

"They are all valid technologies," O'Donnell said, and user choice may be based on which is best for the application load. As to why this is an important issue for Intel to explore, O'Donnell said, "I think they are a little nervous about it because it potentially changes their model" by moving to servers and potentially non-Intel-based thin clients.

Intel already has a good idea of what will be needed for these alternatives and has products in the pipeline, such as an upcoming microprocessor, Diamondville, which is intended for low-power devices, including thin clients, Ferron-Jones said. But the direction that users take matters, he said. For instance, if operating system streaming takes off, vendors will have to make sure they are building I/O subsystems "that can really pound out high volumes of OS images in short amounts of time," he said, such as when systems are booted up in the morning.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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