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IBM Brings Desktops to the Cloud

As part of the opening of VMworld 2009, IBM today unveiled what it calls the industry's first public desktop cloud service, which eliminates the need for client installations and lets users access their desktop from anywhere via a browser.

There have been numerous attempts in the past to create thin clients by hosting the apps in the customer's own datacenters. With the new IBM (NYSE: IBM) Smart Business Desktop, Big Blue is going one further and hosting the services in its own datacenters, so the customer doesn't have to carry the load anywhere on their own network.

Customers have the option of hosting packaged applications, such as Microsoft Office and other productivity apps, or uploading their own custom applications. IBM places no restrictions on the types of apps that can be installed, beyond the limits of the client to adequately display them.

There are no start-up costs, just a monthly subscription that's based on usage. The more apps installed and the more clients connecting to the service, the more the fee.

"This enables our clients to achieve lower costs, security resiliency and free up their resources to work on more strategic projects," Arthur Chiang, vice president of global and end-user services at IBM told InternetNews.com. "With the subscription process, there's no requirement for up-front capital or upfront investment in their client resources."

The user then accesses their workspace via a terminal with a Web browser. Nothing is stored locally, and all computing is done on the server. This means there are some restrictions on just what can be installed and run, Chiang said. The service might be ideal for Word and Exchange, but AutoCAD is probably out of the question.

In essence, this is what Salesforce offers, but Salesforce offers its own CRM apps and what you can custom build on Force.com. IBM Smart Business Desktop is an empty field to plant your own applications.

IBM has partnered with many veterans in this space -- Citrix, Desktone, Wyse and VMware. Desktone claims the first and only virtual desktop hosting platform designed specifically for the cloud, providing multi-tenancy and support for multiple datacenters.

"We're thrilled that IBM recognizes Desktone's pioneering work in desktops as a service (DaaS), from both technical and market development perspectives, and has selected us to provide foundational technology for its innovative service," Desktone CEO Harry Ruda said in a statement.

The IBM Smart Business Desktop on the IBM Cloud service will be available in the Americas and Europe starting Oct. 2009.