The VDI Delusion illusion*



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.


        Typical Desktop Strategy?  (via Ron Oglesby of Unidesk)


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.

Macro Trends

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).


See Also:

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.

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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The VDI Delusion illusion*

  1. Good post Steve, as usual.
    I would just add the availability of broadband connexion, through FTTH or VDSL vectoring /bonding technology Can onlay facilitates the adoption of VDI.
    – Paolo

  2. Steve Kaplan says:

    Paolo, Thanks. And excellent point. I would group the declining bandwidth costs under Moore’s Law, but it is so pronounced that it definitely should be called out.

  3. RMays says:

    Ever think that @cswolf is trying to create VDI hype for gartner? Gartner’s early market and revenue predictions were WAY off. A Gartner analyst with a following as large as @cswolf saying ‘VDI is real’ is only bound to stir up the industry and customers.
    Not trying to play devil’s advocate, just asking a serious question.

  4. Chris Marks says:

    A well written article but, TBH – I don’t think it needed aiming at Brian et al’s book – except for ratings I guess.
    The simple fact is – sometimes the use case for VDI is good & if so – implement it. Sometimes the use case for VDI is not good, so don’t.
    Sometimes the user segmentation process leads you to have some people utilising a FAT install, some with a hosted desktop of some kind – in which case, the key fact is not the delivery of the desktop itself at all – it’s the consistent management of that desktop & the delivery of the apps/data that not only produces the vast majority of the benefits, but also the majority of the “soft cost” savings.
    If this consistent management is correct it matters not how you deliver a desktop to a user today as tomorrow, when the “Bad App” a group of users were using can be upgraded to a “Virtualised Supported” version, the users desktop/application delivery can be changed as a BaU process & the backend management services remain the same – simple.
    So, the conversation should not be – is VDI good or bad (or RDSH, or FAT) – almost everyone agrees it’s pretty cool but not perfect (just like every other deliver mechanism). It should be: what is the best solution for this particular scenario & how do I adapt to change if that situation should change in the coming years.
    Ultimately, VDI is a tool in the toolbox, not a strategy. Let’s all use the best tools for the job & do the job right 🙂

  5. Steve Kaplan says:

    Thank you for your comment. Brian, Gabe & Jack’s book was both the catalyst for the article, and a very well articulated case for VDI being over-hyped. I thought it important to reference it directly in my rebuttal. I absolutely agree with your statement that VDI is not a strategy. Yet by far the most common question I hear from clients considering virtual desktops is, “Should we go with VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop?” I, of course, encourage them to take a much more strategic view in looking at their overall enterprise strategy and determining how that fits in with their overall ITaaS strategy. Architecture design and then product selection can follow.

  6. Steve Kaplan says:

    RMays, Gartner’s early VDI predictions of course are famous for their excess. I would assume that they would take an overly cautious stance at this point. While my perspective of the overall VDI market remains tiny compared to that of Gartner, what I see is booming. Most organizations at least appear to be considering virtual desktops if not actually in some phase of pilot or deployment. And the eco-system is booming as well. Dell just acquired Wyse, HP announced its own zero-client device, Cisco continues to pour recources into VXI and LG recently got into the zero-client device game.

  7. Chris Marks says:

    @Steve, Thanks for the clarification of inspiration – in which case – fair enough, reference is valid.
    Still leaves me thinking that we all (including Brian, Gabe and Jack) seem to be saying the same thing – that it’s not about VDI being a better approach than any other method of delivering services to end users. It’s about what is the right fit for the individual organisation – be that VDI or not. It’s certainly the impression I got from the book & seems to be what you are also saying in your response above.
    That being the case, aren’t we all simply in violent agreement? 🙂

  8. Steve Kaplan says:

    Chris, I certainly wouldn’t say The VDI Delusion authors and I are in “violent agreement”. While I do think we all advocate the same approach to figuring out what is the best solution for an organization, we differ dramatically on the role that virtual desktop technology is likely to play in that solution. As an example, and as I mention in my post, Brian advocates RDHS for shared desktop sessions (i.e. not 1:1 persistent). I obviously feel otherwise.

  9. Julien says:

    Thanks for this great post but i would raise some points I faced in real VDI deployment situation.
    1 – VDI is not as fluid as a traditional PC. That’s a big discussion based on people feeling as people feel Iphone more fluid as Android and other don’t see any differences …
    2 – The user still need to have a “Terminal” and Thinclient are usually more expensive than low cost PC which dont make any sense.
    3 – Maintain “Terminal” : another issue to resolve when deploying VDI is how to manage software version of terminal even if it’s thinclient, linux or windows shell or full os version.
    We shouldn’t therefore forget that user satisfaction is the main success point of a VDI deployment and a decrease in user experience will for sure make this kind of project a huge failure.

  10. Steve Kaplan says:

    Thanks for you comment. I would disagree with your statement about VDI not being as fluid as a traditional PC. The ability to access a virtual desktop from anywhere on almost any device at any time is certainly much more fluid than a PC. Also, today’s integrated zero-client/monitors by manufacturers such as LG & Samsung (& HP just announced one) are considerably less expensive than PCs & monitors, and of course require far less power. The zero-clients also have no local OS at all meaning that management is not an issue. I do agree with you that user satisfaction – or perhaps more importantly – aggregate productivity, is the objective of an enterprise desktop strategy of which VDI increasingly will be an important element.

  11. Brianmadden says:

    Okay, I’ll bite:
    You wrote “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.”
    False. When it comes to all three of those things, VDI is no better than RDSH. The limit is that your remoting the UI, not that it’s a shared session. RDSH can handle USB now on a per-session basis, and to be honest they both suck with remoting. (Think of what happens when a user plugs in their 8GB USB stick via a remote protocol. yikes!)
    You wrote: “Users quickly come to appreciate ubiquitous desktop access without performance decrease caused by viruses or Windows rot”
    Again, this has nothing to do with RDSH versus VDI. If you have some kind of image or storage system to give the users a new image each time their connect, then you could do the same thing with a nightly reboot of an RDSH server. So I agree with your sentiment, but I don’t believe that RDSH is any different than VDI for this.
    You wrote: “Even a power outage leaves their desktop sessions intact the next time they’re able to connect.”
    The only way this is true is if you’re persisting your disk images across reboots, which is directly the opposite of what you’re advocating in the previous sentence. And if you’re persisting via something like profile virtualization or whatever, then again, that works fine for RDSH.
    You wrote: “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.”
    If you’re spinning up and vaporizing pristine desktops, then how are you dealing with the thousands of long tail apps? You’re not installing them into every VM, since then you’d have thousands of unique images which would negate the Windows rot and AV stuff you wrote earlier. And if you’re using app virtualization, well again, that works fine for RDSH too.
    Bottom line is that I agree there’s a time for VDI and a time for RDSH. But really this is about managing Windows. RDSH isn’t automatically better or worse, and VDI isn’t better or worse. We should be focusing on the benefits of centralized desktops versus the benefits of local desktops, or the benefits of managed desktops versus the benefits of unmanaged. But both of those two things are not part of the RDSH versus VDI conversation.

  12. Steve Kaplan says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I agree with you that it is possible to do just about everything with RDSH that you can with virtual desktops, but often it is a lot more difficult. VDI also includes more options and the thriving eco-system around VDI enhances those options still further. In your book, for example, you discuss layering technologies. Products such as Unidesk can be very useful in handling the “long tail” issue.
    I definitely agree with your sentiments that RDSH vs VDI should not be the conversational focus. An organization’s overall objectives must first be identified and then an appropriate enterprise desktop architecture defined to support those objectives.
    For those readers of this post who did not see my Amazon review of your book, I do want to reemphasize that I thought it was extremely well done – and entertaining besides. It is rare that I read every word of a book – especially one about technology. But while the logic throughout every section of the book ranges from sound to irrefutable, I think you and the other authors miss the intangible appeal articulated by Gartner’s Berger that virtual desktops provide to users (and I would add to administrators).
    Of course, this is one of those debates that ultimately will be decided by the market. As far as I can tell, VDI looks like a good bet for the winner.

  13. Brianmadden says:

    I definitely agree that VDI will win out long term. Eventually the technology will be so fast that it won’t be worth it to deal with the idiosyncrasies of RDSH.

  14. Steve Kaplan says:

    Brian, the question then becomes, do organizations faced with the dramatically improving economics, escalating eco-system support, and rapid enhancements of VDI continue to invest in alternative technologies, or begin shifting their enterprise desktop strategies to embrace virtual machines? My position is obviously reflected in this post.

  15. Vdispace says:

    Ok I will chime in as well. I think the one thing that a lot of organizations are looking at with VDI is to try to get out of the obsolescence cycle of the traditional desktop.
    RDSH was never really looked at as a desktop replacement, and now there are organizations who did not replace desktops due to budget cuts, etc, so they think VDI is an true desktop replacement, where terminal services (now RDSH) is not really considered a desktop replacement.
    This has been mostly an issue driven by Windows app development, and the fact that some run nicely on desktops but not on server using RDSH.
    Now we also have to compare the protocols that each provide too for USB, multimedia, and dual monitors. The protocol for RDSH is Remote FX, and for the top VDI players HDX for Citrix and PCoIP for VMWare. If we compare then all together, HDX and PCoIP have more track record, and in 2012 Microsoft has finally come to the table with a comparable protocol (WOW, what a wait). RDP by itself has always been considered a sub par protocol to HDX or PCoIP until Remote FX, so there has been a stigma attach to it from performance and features.
    Also remember another factor, and that is loyalty. I run into a lot of organizations who go with View because of their servers being on ESX. I am not saying that is smart, but remember the IT Director is very influential in the decision making, and are very loyal to their products, sometimes without regard to the fact that is the best solution for their environment, as the C level executives usually have no idea about technology, so they lean on their IT Director for their decisions.
    I think VDI has another main catalyst, and this is mainly for cost justification in a lot of organizations I go into, and that is desktop refresh usually accompanied by a Windows 7 refresh. If they have desktops that need to be refreshed, and they can reuse their existing desktops as they are still good enough in comparison to current thin client specs, then the organization is looking at alternatives to traditional desktops, but they have to get it approved budget wise as well, and they want something that can cut down on their management time too, since they already are running with a skeleton crew.
    This is why products like Kaviza – now Citrix’s VDI-In-A-Box makes a lot of sense if you want to go VDI. There is really not a product that can truly compete with it, as kills VMWare View and Citrix XenDesktop on the price, hardware requirements, deployment, and management costs, if you are looking for VDI without all the frills.
    I do think there is a misconception that VDI is the magical elixir that will solve all your desktop problems. VDI can have a lot of the same issues as traditional desktops if not setup properly and management efficiently.
    Now lastly, I think that Microsoft sees Windows 8 as their ability to get huge market penetration in VDI, and I really think that Windows 8 is too much change for end users. Remember Vista? Well with such a drastic change in UI, I really think end users will not like it. I have been using it for a while now (not as my primary desktop, I would be driven insane by Metro as I had to download a third party app just get get the start menu back, but now the start menu takes up 2/3s the screen and remember I am an IT guy, think of those less IT literate end users).
    The main draw to VDI and RDSH as I see it, is the ability to centralize users to be able to have access from any device from anywhere.
    I think VDI is a much more viable solution in the long run than RDSH and RDSH is evolving into almost a VDI solution itself. RDSH is one revision away from being Microsoft VDI on Hyper-V. Also Microsoft would not have their licensing the way it is for VDI if they did not see the potential to buy time to slow adoption to now try to get their own market share in VDI.
    In the end, this is an interesting time we live in, and I look forward to seeing the evolution of technology, especially desktops.
    Remember, the light at the end of the tunnel, is the headlight of an incoming train. Be careful my friends. 🙂

  16. Steve Kaplan says:

    Michael, thanks for your extensive comment. You may be looking at RDSH as just Microsoft – though I consider it the broader category for what was formerly called server-based computing (SBC). We absolutely did sell SBC as a desktop replacement. Way back in 1999 we replaced the PCs for all 1,800 users for ABM Industries with Wyse WinTerms running Citrix MetaFrame. The project was a great success – saving millions of dollars. Citrix featured ABM in a national ad campaign in media such as BusinessWeek, Fortune, and the WSJ among others.
    As far as organizations deploying View because of loyalty to VMware – I don’t really see that. I think that IT staffs are understandably impressed with the extraordinary reliability of VMware ESX, and that may play a factor. But there are also synergies in terms of management console, licensing and staff expertise that bridge from server to desktop. And now with the integration of vCOPs with VMware View, there is yet another compelling reason for VMware shops to incorporate the VMware desktop strategy as well.
    I also look forward to seeing the technology evolve and agree that desktop virtualization must be approached both carefully and strategically to be successful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *