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Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is becoming increasingly attractive for organisations grappling with cost control and demand for IT consumerisation, and Middle East CIOs are now eyeing the technology.
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But so far, most organisations in the Middle East have made little attempt to virtualise their desktop infrastructure.
The advance of consumerised IT in the enterprise and the age of BYOD (bring you own device) and mobility are putting pressure on CIOs, who need to find ways to take advantage of the technology trends and habits that are shaping end-user expectations while keeping costs down.
This is one of the main reasons why VDI, which offers a secure and flexible way to deliver a centralised IT management model, is poised to take hold across the Middle East.
“The Middle East market is demonstrating high levels of interest in desktop virtualisation, which is translating into good growth of virtual desktop deployments,” said Samer Al Jayousi, cloud client computing director – Middle East, Africa and Central Eastern Europe at Dell.
“The market is not as mature as Western Europe, but advances in the ease of planning, deployment and management of the virtual desktop are enabling faster adoption. Organisations are also seeing the value that thin clients can deliver as part of a desktop virtualisation solution, especially through simplifying application deployment and desktop management, and by enhancing data security.”
Analyst forecasts are optimistic. According to IDC, the EMEA virtual client computing market will be worth $1.1bn by 2018, largely driven by the deployment of VDI for secure data delivery. The Middle East’s contribution to that growth is expected to take a considerable leap from its 2016 level of $300m.
No quick wins
However, the dilemma for many organisations is the fact that investment in the skills and technologies to take advantage of this growth is for the long term with no quick wins. Traditionally conservative enterprises will demand evidence of benefits and returns before committing.
One organisation offering evidence is Ma’arif Group, the largest owner and operator of private schools in Saudi Arabia. It recently started switching its computer laboratories from desktop PCs to virtual desktops from NComputing.
The organisation, which has more than 80 schools in Saudi Arabia, said it is replacing its ageing PCs with more reliable, easier-to-maintain virtual desktops. Computer laboratories are integral to the education that Ma’arif provides and are heavily used for lessons and examinations.
Abdullah Omran, IT manager at Ma’arif, said: “We plan to equip all our computer labs with the NComputing L300 over the coming months. We are looking forward to continued positive benefits for Ma’arif for education and training, and most importantly, for the schools, teachers and students.”
Maurice Johnson, regional director at NComputing Middle East, added: “This is an excellent example of how schools and colleges in the Middle East can embrace powerful, easy-to-manage desktop virtualisation to widen access to information technology and improve education for students and teachers alike.”
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According to Ma’arif, the previous PC infrastructure used in the laboratories was proving to be increasingly unreliable, with old desktop computers unable to run video and multimedia applications and requiring regular maintenance and repair. Also, the management of PCs for schools spread across Saudi Arabia was time-consuming and required a lot of manual maintenance.
Ma’arif worked with Virtual Tech for Information Technology EST, an NComputing-authorised gold partner, to find a solution and ran a pilot project to test NComputing solutions. The group chose NComputing’s vSpace session virtualisation, including L300 thin clients.
The group said it selected this technology because it provided superior multimedia capabilities, ease of use and remote management for multiple locations.
NComputing technology is now deployed in 25 schools and allows Ma’arif to run one standard version of an operating system, which is accessed by multiple users, from a central vSpace server in each lab. A standardised desktop and a set of applications are delivered to students and teachers in each computer lab.
Shelly Varghese, unit manager – virtualisation and networking at Mindware, said Middle East enterprises are warming to desktop virtualisation and adoption of the technology is set to build on the first wave of server virtualisation in the region.
“Industry segments such as education, healthcare, manufacturing, financial services and the public sector are benefiting from desktop virtualisation,” he said. “The opportunity is also huge, with almost untapped mid-market and SMB space.”
According to Varghese, there are a number of key influences driving VDI acceptance in the Middle East: migration to Windows 10 and Office 365; new and emerging technologies; secure application and data delivery; user mobility and flexibility; cloud-based business applications; and demand for a lower total cost of ownership.
Savitha Bhaskar, COO at Condo Protego, said smart government initiatives are also an important influence on the market. “For VDI programmes to be successful, Middle East enterprises need to take a holistic approach with converged or hyper-converged infrastructure, purpose-built for a VDI workload,” she said.
“With a self-contained, high-performance computing block, converged or hyper-converged infrastructures allow organisations to take the next step towards a software-defined datacentre, for a key, high-growth workload such as VDI.”
Bhaskar said these infrastructures are rapidly shifting the role of Middle East suppliers to consultants for desktop virtualisation.
Arthur Dell, director of technology and service, MEA at Citrix, said the company has invested a lot of resources, time and effort to understand customers’ key business challenges.
“CIOs and C-level decision-makers want solutions that create secure, compliant, flexible work environments that encourage access to data and applications from any device, anywhere,” he said.
Deepak MS, product manager at systems integrator Alpha Data, said VDI is proving useful in helping organisations shift to the cloud as it facilitates the delivery of existing Windows applications and desktops on any device, with any form factor.
But he also said the “Windows/desktop is dead” claims are wrong. Windows-powered desktops can be delivered via SaaS and as web apps, and many companies still rely on multiple Windows applications and will continue to do so for some time, he added.
But there is worrying evidence that security costs are being overlooked when it comes to VDIs. According to a recent survey by Kaspersky Lab, virtual infrastructures are twice as expensive to recover after a cyber attack compared with a purely physical infrastructure. Kaspersky said recovery of a security breach involving virtual infrastructure costs more than $800,000 on average for an enterprise-level organisation.
“Businesses expect that going virtual will drive down their IT spend and streamline their infrastructure,” said Matvey Voytov, corporate products group manager, Kaspersky Lab. “However, the survey results show that if not enough attention is paid to security matters in the virtual environment, the expense may exceed the benefit.
“Our view is that businesses should use customised, virtual-aware security solutions with centralised management and reporting. The solution should have a low impact on resources, a high detection rate and the ability to spot suspicious activity right away.”
Industry experts expect the perception that VDI is an expensive investment for long-term cost savings will be replaced by a deeper understanding of the benefits it can deliver across the organisation. “VDI has matured as a technology and can now handle almost all kinds of applications,” said Pramod Kurian, chief operating officer at Pinnacle Smart Technologies.
“Since awareness levels of the possibilities are [still] extremely low in the Middle East, suppliers and their distribution partners need to take a leading role in educating customers on the ease, flexibility and security that VDI can provide.”