Sun Microsystems is partnering with Ashbourne Technology Group to offer what the companies are call a cloud-based "desktop as a service" package aimed at primary and secondary education markets. The service can deliver Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Solaris desktops to any device that has a Java-based browser, though the companies are suggesting that schools choose the Sun Ray thin client as the end-point of choice. According to Casey Polowitch, senior director, government education healthcare industries, Sun Microsystems, "The idea is that we're able to provide for any customer a desktop experience over the Internet from a cloud data center and provide very much the same experience and environment that they'd have on their desktop or notebook." He says that one of the key drivers for acceptance of the offering is the need schools have to cut down on support costs for deploying, managing and maintaining fleets of desktop computers.
The Sun - Ashbourne collaboration is far from the only effort aimed at delivering a desktop experience across the Internet. Citrix XenDesktop 4, for example, promises a "complete Windows desktop experience as an on-demand service to any user, anywhere." The Sun version has the distinction of providing multiple operating system desktops from the cloud. The question for many IT departments is going to be whether to allow the cloud to provide multiple desktop experiences to end users sitting at similar hardware devices, or to use the cloud to provide a single corporate desktop experience to users regardless of which hardware they're using.
The reasons for a corporation's interest in desktops across the Internet have been the same as those given for the educational market: maintenance and support reduction lead the way. In addition, a somewhat more recent concern around energy efficiency has emerged as organizations look to replace full desktop computers with thin clients or netbook computers.
As for this sort of deployment being a model for corporate deployments, Polowitch says, "We actually believe we're on the edge of the time when this type of computing - desktop as a service - is here, and it performs and is ready. It's not a question of technology at this point, it's about behavior change." Polowitch says that the foundation has been laid for individuals to accept desktop as a service and through the individuals for organizations to find success with the deployment. "You look at TIVO, set-top boxes, and smart phones, and we're all used to getting services through devices that don't look like computers," he says, continuing, "We think we're in the right place at the right time with the right offering. Sun is able to do Mac, Win and Linux as a Switzerland sort of neutral provider."
Sun says that the service will be available for as little as one dollar per concurrent user per day. Polowitch says that the price and the economy have linked to increase institutional interest in the solution. He says, "'Flat is the new up' in this economy, and with all the pressures to do more with less it's the right time for this kind of service."