Dell Slims Down with On-Demand ‘Desktop Streaming’

It’s out with the hard drives and in with the virtual desktop if Dell has its way. The PC and enterprise server giant today talked up plans to take on the thin-client marketplace with its new On-Demand Desktop Streaming offering.

The effort, announced by CEO Michael Dell during the Gartner IT Expo in Orlando, Fla., earlier today, is still to provide a Windows experience on an Intel-based Dell PC. The necessary applications, OS and storage, however, will be housed and administered centrally.

In Dell’s On-Demand Desktop Streaming, the centrally stored Microsoft Windows XP or Vista operating system is sent “down the wire” to a PC every time it’s booted.

Because there is no desktop to install and maintain, Dell’s On-Demand Desktop Streaming promises a step reduction in support problems. Theoretically, running a “clean” system that’s managed by IT and refreshed daily helps eliminate security threats and makes upgrades easier to push out.

Speaking at the Garner conference, Dell described On-Demand Desktop Streaming as “take a disk and stick it in a SAN, so all image management is handled centrally.”

“We don’t see it as a solution for all customers, that’s why we call it flexible computing,” he added. “We take cost out.”

Through the move, Dell is banking that businesses are seeking a middle ground between the traditional fat client, centered around installed software, and the thin-client model in which almost all processing is done on central servers.

Dell On-Demand Desktop Streaming is aimed at mid-sized to large enterprises with major IT infrastructures. That’s because the clients might be lightweight, but the iron needed to run it isn’t.

The clients, coming in November, will be diskless OptiPlex 745 and OptiPlex 755 desktops. Those will work in connection with a PowerEdge 2950 server, a PowerConnect Gigabit switch, a Citrix Provisioning Server for Desktops Software, and a PowerEdge 2900 storage server. The servers are designed to support around 100 concurrent clients, the company said.

Of course, the plan makes Dell the sole source for all of the necessary components. In addition, the company’s professional services arm is more than happy to handle nearly everything else involved, including pre-sales sizing, assessment, deployment and ongoing support.

Spokespeople at the company said On-Demand Desktop Streaming comes as part of a much-touted five-year initiative designed to help customers simplify IT operations.

“We’ve heard IT is getting too complex, leaving professionals to spend 70 or 80 percent of time focusing on their infrastructure or just keeping the lights on instead of focusing on growth,” said Jeff Clark, senior vice president of Dell’s commercial product group, during a conference call announcing the new product offering. “We’re about eliminating complexity and driving down cost.”

Still, executives made it clear that Dell is not getting into the thin-client business and won’t be following the lead of players like Wyse.

“This is not a thin client, this is not a bladed PC,” Clark said. “Those models are great as a centralized control, [but] there is a trade-off for the user in productivity and end-user experience. Our on-demand gives best of both worlds.”

Specifically, Clark said Dell’s performance would be comparable to that of a standard PC — in spite of having to stream a whole operating system and application suite every time a client PC reboots.

The new launch seems to suggest that Dell has regained something of its early daring following the January return of Michael Dell to the helm of the company he founded, and which still bears his name.

“Dell has not been very adventurous in new product areas in the past,” said Roger Kay, president of IT consultancy Endpoint Technologies. “Traditionally, they adopt new technologies quickly, but tend to be very cautious in entering a new product area. They adopted the Pentium as soon as it was out but were slow to go into whole new markets. One of the things about the new Dell is to go into new product areas and not wait so long.”

Kay thinks Dell has something going for it and has learned from the mistakes of HP, which stumbled with its CCI thin clients”.

“This type of thing is very usable and desirable in a corporate network that’s well developed with good network speed,” he told “It creates an easier-to-manage, more secure, equally well-performing, easy-to-upgrade environment. There are a lot of benefits to this type of architecture.”

Dave Needle,’s West Coast bureau chief, contributed to this story.

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