“Gartner is literally being overwhelmed with VDI inquiries regarding real deployments; can't hire analysts fast enough to meet demand”
– Tweet by Gartner’s Chris Wolf (@cswolf) April 02, 2012
VDI has leapt the chasm that Terminal Services never managed to cross and is on the way to becoming a mainstream computing alternative. In The VDI Delusion, authors Brian Madden, Gabe Knuth and Jack Madden make a strong argument that VDI is over-hyped. They maintain that Remote Desktop Session Host (i.e. Terminal Services/SBC) or even PCs are frequently the better call. But while virtual desktops may have only a 1.5% share of the total enterprise desktop market today, they continue to gain huge mindshare and momentum.
VDI has Greater Appeal than RDSH (Server-Based Computing)
The RDSH technology that Brian Madden advocates for shared desktop sessions has been around since 1996 (or longer if you count Citrix WinFrame’s 1995 debut). Commonplace in specialty line-of-business application delivery, RDSH has never managed to gain traction as a mainstream desktop replacement.
Gartner’s Gunnar Berger recently wrote, “I believe that virtual desktops are gaining traction not because they are the best technical choice, in many use cases they aren’t, but because virtual desktops bring benefits to the employee that are hard to measure.” Berger argues that the VDI gives users a unique desktop, providing them with a sense of empowerment that, “…lets [them] work the way they want to work”.
Users don’t want change, but they do want USB devices, dual monitors and multimedia. VDI’s close approximation to a physical desktop eases their concerns. Users quickly come to appreciate ubiquitous desktop access without performance decrease caused by viruses or Windows rot. Even a power outage leaves their desktop sessions intact the next time they’re able to connect.
Most IT administrators also prefer VDI over RDSH; working with virtual desktops is easier than running Windows Server as a client. Administrators don’t face application incompatibilities, user session lockdown, printer driver problems or a crashed service such as the print spooler affecting all users on that problem server. Pristine desktops are spun up on the fly and then vaporized when users log out – eliminating viruses, spyware and user installed software issues.
A larger organization often has hundreds or thousands of apps used by only a few people, and a handful of apps used by everyone. VDI is far more flexible than RDSH in handling this “long tail” scenario.
A small part of a typical long tail of apps as shown by Systrack
VDI Enables More Secure and Better Managed Desktops
VDI critics argue that PCs can be just as secure and easily managed as virtual desktops. But a well-managed PC environment is the exception, not the rule, and unmanaged physical desktops cannot match the security of a cenntralized virtual desktop environment. Corporate information – rather than maintained on hard drives of PCs and remote office servers throughout the enterprise – is all kept in the data center. Skilled IT administrators oversee physical security, IDS/IPS, firewalls, perimeter and multi-tier AV and malware protecton, SIEM tools, etc.
Critics contend that IT organizations lacking the motivation or budget required to institute desktop PC-based management won’t fare any better with virtual desktops. But VDI demands a strategic approach, otherwise it will stall out at the pilot phase or fail completely.
Virtual desktops directly impact hundreds or thousands of users, each with individual expectations and perceptions. Just one unhappy user can kill a huge VDI project. A poorly designed VDI pilot is likely to spell the kiss of death.
Identifying business objectives and use cases, assessing environmental and user characteristics, and rigorous design and planning, are all mandatory for a successful enterprise VDI deployment.
Enhanced management, security, disaster recovery and remote office infrastructure consolidation, among other advantages, are driving VDI adoption. The sense of urgency is heightened by three macro trends: Windows 7, BYOD and Cloud.
Windows 7: Windows XP goes end of life on April 8, 2014. Organizations planning to migrate to Windows 7 often require hardware upgrades. VDI enables IT either to add years of use to PCs and laptops by repurposing them as thin-clients, or replace them with inexpensive thin or zero-client devices.
BYOD: IT faces the challenge of allowing employees to utilize personal computing devices in the workplace yet still ensure security, compliance and aggregate productivity. Incorporating virtual desktops as part of a desktop-as-a-service strategy facilitates both objectives.
Cloud: Legacy, locally-hosted Windows applications are no longer adequate for many organizations. Employees insist upon Web-based apps, SaaS and even cloud-based storage platforms such as DropBox. Integrated virtual desktop offerings such as VMware’s Horizon Application Manager and Octopus enable efficient, reliable and secure consumption of both Cloud and Windows applications.
Moore’s Law Equals More Virtual Desktops
The VDI Delusion discusses the BriForum 2010 talk by Atlantis Computing founder, Chetan Ventaskesh. Ventaskesh believes that Moore’s Law, by doubling the number of virtual desktops that can run on a physical server every two years, makes it increasingly expedient to move the desktop to the data center.
Referring to Ventaskesh’s talk, the authors write, “All these technological advancements mean that running Windows on VDI in the data center will be able to deliver a better experience than what’s possible when running Windows on a client.”
Atlantis ILIO, Cisco VXI, VMware Storage Accelerator and many other innovations in the thriving VDI space further augment Moore’s Law. Even an organization not realizing an immediate financial advantage from embracing VDI today will benefit in two or three years. Savvy IT professionals increasingly deploy a virtual desktop architecture rather than continue to invest in refreshing PCs and laptops.
Summing it Up
“Experts saying VDI isn't taking off need to spend less time talking, more time getting heads out of the sand. Tons of deployments going on”.
-Tweet by Gartner’s Chris Wolf (@cswolf) April 02, 2012
VDI, after years of hype, is finally building significant momentum. Advantages to both users and IT staff make virtual desktops an attractive alternative to either PCs or RDSH. Declining data center costs resulting from both Moore’s Law and technology innovations ensure that VDI will rapidly grow to become a much bigger part of the corporate landscape.
* I’m having a bit of fun with The VDI Delusion title which itself appears to be a play on Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion. The authors, contrary to the title’s suggestion, do not rail against VDI, but only the hype surrounding it. The book is both very well written and informative.
Thanks for contributions and/or review by @carydahl (Presidio), Alan Kaplan (NetBlaze), Trevor Pott (@cakeis_not_alie), Michael Fraser (@vdispace), Greg Kuchar – @Koocar (Presidio), @salinasdan (Lakeside Software), Tyler "T-Rex" Roher – @T_REX_VDI (Liquidware Labs), and @Guise_Bule (TuCloud).
Is it the Year of Desktop Virtualization Yet? 05/09/2012. Barb Darrow. Gigaom.
I was wrong about how VMware View 5.1's new "Storage Accelerator" works. It's way cooler than I thought! 05/07/2012. Brian Madden. Brianmadden.com
The Reality of Virtual Desktops. 04/17/2012. Gunnar Berger. Gartner.
Which are More Secure, Virtual or Physical Desktops? 04/05/2012. Steve Kaplan. By The Bell.
Virtual Desktops are the Gateway to Cloud Computing.02/26/2012. Steve Kaplan. By The Bell.
BYOD as part of a Desktop-as-a-Service Strategy. 01/08/2012. Steve Kaplan. By The Bell.
The Why of VDI. July 2011. Steve Kaplan. Presidio White Paper (4 MB pdf).
Quantifying the Business Value of VMware View. May 2011. Ian Song. IDC White Paper.
VDI vs SBC: ROI Case Study. 12/19/2010. Steve Kaplan. By The Bell.
The ABCs of VDI: User Perception = Reality. 02/20/2010. Steve Kaplan. By The Bell.