My recent post, The Why of VDI, discusses the importance of taking a why-how-what hierarchical approach to enabling a successful virtual desktop initiative. But what are the use cases where an organization should even consider virtual desktops at all?
Managing, securing and maintaining legacy desktops is frequently, well, a pain in the butt. Updates, patches and malware scans all take time and can be tedious even when utilizing sophisticated desktop management products. PCs and laptops may also require CPU and memory upgrades in order to run new versions of Windows or applications and to accommodate ever growing resource demands. Eventually, Windows Rot tends to become an issue where desktops start slowing down as toolbars and other miscellaneous software items are installed. Other pain points include users inadvertently deleting files or corrupting data. The list goes on.
Traditional (Physical) End-User Computing
VDI decouples the desktop experience from the physical hardware. It can be deployed either as a 1 to 1 persistant virtual desktop or, much more commonly, as a non-persistent virtual machine. Non-persistent VMs include the individual constructs of stateful persona and application layered on top of a stateless desktop operating system. In other words persona (profile, application settings, and personalization) and applications (virtualized streaming, virtualized presentation based, and fat) are held in database-driven systems to be layered upon a desktop and is generated upon log in. The desktop returns to the original vanilla configuration after logoff, wiping out any malware or undesired user changes.
A virtual desktop architecture is an administrator’s dream – providing increased control, dependability, and security when compared to traditional desktops. Now the entire company can be updated, for example, from Office 2003 to Office 2010 without upgrading or even touching any individual desktops. Indeed, both Office application versions can be accessed simultaneously for a period of time if desired. Entire remote offices can be set up in an hour with just some zero client devices and an Internet connection. If running non-persistent VMs, users can get a pristine desktop every time they log on, with a number of options for preserving their persona between sessions.
VDI Use Cases
My Why of VDI white paper discusses the importance of defining the objectives for a virtual desktop initiative as well as drilling down a bit into the technology and architecture. The following list provides some of the more common use cases driving VDI deployments:
- VDI is hot: This may be the #1 driver. Organizations are looking into virtual desktops because everyone else seems to be doing it.
- Security: Just having all the organization’s data secure in the data center will make ISOs sleep better at night. But virtual desktop security can provide many other advantages as well – if the environment is architected properly. Examples include data security – including IT theft and information privacy issues, malware prevention, and even discontinuing IT system access by ex-employees.
- Scalability: Virtual desktops are vastly easier & faster to scale up or down as required.
- Better Service Delivery Model: Rather than managing and deploying myriad desktop images onto disparate hardware, VDI lets administrators focus on application delivery, user experience and productivity. Upgrading to Windows 7, for example, can rapidly be accomplished organization-wide even on very old PCs. Virtual desktops eliminate the requirement to deal with myriad desktop images as well as with the unique and co-dependent nature of every application and profile to each image.
- Centralized Management: Even the best physical desktop push-down management solutions are more difficult to administer than a properly designed and deployed VDI environment. Virtual desktops enable end-user self provisioning and expendable operating systems which typically reduces calls to the help desk. Similarly, reduced configuration complexity allows help desk to assist with user productivity.
- Facilitating IT Governance: Centralized control makes it much easier for management to set and enforce organizational standards and to align desktop computing with overall business objectives.
- Regulatory Compliance: Innovative VDI solutions such as location-aware desktops can help achieve HIPAA and other regulatory compliance.
- Software License Management & Compliance: The benefits of centralized management as well as VDI ecosystem players such as AppSense can not only help organizations comply with software licensing, but in some cases lower the cost while also providing a secure application environment.
- Fits Better with Cloud Objectives: The on-demand provisioning nature of VDI is already cloud-like. Increasing integration of virtual desktops into cloud platforms (i.e. VMware View into vCloud Director) further enhances their appeal.
- Disaster Recovery: Organizations ignore the desktop component of DR/BC plans at their peril; physical desktops configured with the client-server software required to access failed-over data centers may themselves be unaccessible in the event of a disaster. VDI enables virtual desktop replication to DR facilities along with virtual servers. As long as users can get to a browser, they can access their desktops, applications and data. Architected correctly, VDI only necessitates replicating the application delivery, user persona and Golden Image which can then spawn new desktops.
- Workforce Mobility: Capabilities include remote access, follow-me desktops, location-aware virtual desktops, etc. Even traveling employees without Internet access can continue working utilizing capabilities such as VMware View Client with Local Mode which streams the encrypted virtual desktop down to a laptop, synchronizing back to the data center VM upon log-in.
- User Productivity / Employee Empowerment: Among other advantages, employees obtain ubiquitous access, workspace flexibility and decreased downtime.
- BYOD: VDI helps facilitate the exploding trend of consumerization by abstracting the corporate desktop from the user-owned device. Employees and contractors gain secure access to their applications and data without concern for the underlying OS. PCs, Macs, iPads, Android devices all can access the organization desktop.
- Remote Office Computing: It is often possible to run virtual desktops at smaller remote offices, consolidating their network infrastructures back to running as virtual machines in the data center – thereby enabling cost savings, high availability, disaster recovery and an increased level of user support. Bringing user sessions close to the server data can also enhance performance in some situations. Connectivity redundancy can be inexpensively achieved in many cases by utilizing an MPLS network as the primary WAN with inexpensive Internet connectivity as a back-up.
- Green Initiatives: Replacing PCs with thin-clients or zero-clients and eliminating network infrastructure at remote offices can significantly reduce power consumption.
- Acquisition Assimilation: Acquired organizations can quickly plug into the new parent’s information system simply by accessing the corporate virtual desktop.
- Converged Desktop Facilitation: Cisco, for example, produces zero-client devices including asics that will enable voice flow optimization. Users can attach the devices to their phones and plug in their monitors, keyboards and mousepads thereby utilizing one device as the virtual desktop, phone, video and eventually telepresence terminal all running as a VM in the data center.
- Reduced Cost: This includes desktop support, management costs, endpoint hardware, software licensing (in some cases), remote office infrastructures and energy costs.
One of the overarching benefits of a virtual desktop environment is the ability for employees to feel more empowered in their jobs. Users have less downtime, no longer need be concerned with aging desktops and can get their work done anywhere from any device. Remote office workers no longer feel like second class citizens receiving hand-me down servers and having less access to the organization’s IT staff. The desktop teams are freed up to engage in more advanced and beneficial organizational projects, thereby elevating overall job satisfaction while potentially enabling technological and process innovation.
Morgan Hamilton of INX was a major contributor to this article. Mark Vaughn and David Jolley of INX both contributed/reviewed.
The Client Virtualization Imperative. 09/11. Forrester white paper.