Virtual desktops: the pros and cons

Virtual desktops promise to virtualize PCs in the data centre. Is this really a better way to deliver computing to your users?

Virtual desktops promise to do away with many of the hassles that come with placing a computer on every user's desk.

But the idea also has some downside.

Storage managers, for example, have a real concern that virtualizing desktops means all of the operating systems, applications and data currently residing on desktop and laptop PCs will need to find a new home in the data center storage environment. Taneja Group analysts have warned that required storage resources, as well as their ongoing management and administration, could be staggering.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has the potential to cure this ongoing IT ailment by moving desktops into the data center. Instead of booting a local client-side operating system, users connect via a browser or thin client to a virtual desktop that runs as a virtual machine (VM) on a server in the data center. Consequently, ownership of the desktop transfers from the user to IT and, by centralizing desktops, the long list of daunting desktop management tasks is greatly reduced.

However, as with any technology, deploying virtual desktop infrastructure has its pros and cons. The following is a list of VDI the pros and cons of deploying VDI.

Any virtual desktop infrastructure deployment consideration needs to start with a thorough return on investment (ROI) analysis that weighs desktop management and compliance benefits against the cost of deploying and maintaining a VDI infrastructure.

Because IT is more likely considered a necessity rather than an asset at small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), virtual desktop infrastructure may not be an option for these types of firms with their limited IT teams and modest data centers. As VDI service providers mature, outsourced virtual desktop infrastructure and VDI in the cloud will become viable options for smaller firms.

When evaluating a virtual desktop infrastructure platform, focus on advanced features, such as offline support, linked clone-type capabilities for efficient use of storage and simplified management, as well as application virtualization capabilities. These are the areas where you get the biggest bang, but it's also where products differ the most.

Keep your mind open to mixing hypervisors and VDI products. While there's a small benefit to having all components from a single vendor, mixing and matching different vendors to get best-of-breed products or the most cost-efficient combinations is a valid and prudent option.

Start with a small number of desktops and grow your virtual desktop infrastructure footprint from there. Because it's such a radical change, a gradual rollout that includes frequently reassessing the project and making adjustments will increase your likelihood of success.

Read more on Virtualisation management strategy