At the Gartner consulting firm's annual data centre conference in Las Vegas last week, company analysts said virtualised desktop environments are coming and that the technology may even lead to worker ownership of laptops.
However, IT managers here were more sceptical, saying that such a move may make sense in theory but current technology falls short of their needs.
Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman says many companies would prefer managing a virtual environment on an employee's laptop, to worrying about all the other applications that may have been loaded on a system. "It's a lot harder to lock down the hardware, than it is a virtual machine," he says.
Bittman also says that once a company makes the move to a virtual environment, it can explore the idea of subsidising employee ownership of laptop PCs.
Some attendees agreed that virtual PCs could be more secure than current systems and less susceptible to conflicts and problems that could arise when road warriors install their own productivity applications or games. They also believe they might save on software licencing costs if applications can be delivered only as needed.
"I can see a drive toward virtual desktops," says Ben Davis, director of networks at Matria Healthcare in, Georgia. Davis added that virtual desktops would give IT departments tighter control over software. Today, he says, if employees have PCs at home and access to the corporate network, "They basically have access to all of the network. With a virtual desktop, you can restrict that access".
But Davis isn't convinced the technology now available matches the vision. "All I'm hearing is manufacturer hype," he says. "It's got to mature some."
Dodd Vernon, operations manager at Walgreen, a Illinois-based pharmacy chain with 5500 stores, agreed. He says the virtualisation of laptop and desktop environments has been discussed, but the technology needs to be proven before his company takes action.
Thomas O'Sullivan, operations manager at the Montana Department of Transportation, concurred with Bittman. "The laptop may be the next logical step," he says. O'Sullivan also says he could foresee employee ownership of laptops, noting that many already own the handheld devices that they use for work.
Vernon acknowledged the appeal of individually owned PCs with virtual work environments, saying, "I think there could be some cost benefit".