Making desktops virtual: A reality check

Find out the general misconceptions and realistic benefits of making desktops virtual, along with tips on resolving serious VDI issues.

The results from the National Computing Centre survey on virtualisation demonstrate that vendor marketing and discussions around virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) have definitely increased market awareness. Unfortunately, some of the hype is just that. It has no real foundation, and there are plenty of misconceptions.

One of the biggest misconceptions is the perception that implementing VDI is cheaper than taking the traditional fat client approach, and that return on investment (ROI) for a typical VDI implementation can be long -- up to three years. The hardware costs for servers, storage, the software layering and licensing costs and initial capital outlay are indeed considerable. However, the indirect cost savings and the avoidance of downtime losses more than make up for a long-term ROI.

Another misleading perception is that VDI makes it easier to manage and support desktop applications, with 83% of respondents thinking it's easier to deploy and 70% believing it's easier to maintain. Again, pretty much the same problem here: If you have 1,200 applications in your organisation, you still have 1,200 applications to manage, update and deploy.

The number one issue with VDI at this time is the layering of the software licence models.


Andy Goddard, practice leader, workplace and collaboration, Computacenter,

The argument that you deploy them centrally, although valid, unfortunately breaks down when we consider that to really virtualise the desktop we need to virtualise the applications as well -- and this isn't straightforward.

The real benefits
"Surely, there are some real benefits for VDI," you may say. And yes, there are many...only they are not as obvious as the marketing hype would have you believe.

Any potential to reduce costs has to be beneficial in the current climate. For larger organisations with off-site business continuity setups with large desktop estates in warehouses, ready and waiting for that call to provide desktop and application access to the business, there is clearly a very good case for considering VDI. We see this especially in the financial market. Some of these operations cost many millions of pounds per year to run (and are on the whole unused), so by being able to provide the same kind of access for end users, but from their home instead of these locations, clearly has benefit.

Improved flexible working practices go hand in hand with this. You can have a consistent workplace, applications and user data, regardless of your users' locations. Anyone remember last winter's snowstorm and seemingly everyone being unable to get to work? The U.K. stopped dead for several days and the downtime for business was significant. In the future, companies must have systems in place that prevent disruption like this for more than 24 hours, and VDI will play a key role. Additionally, organisations that want to introduce flexible working practices can really benefit from the resultant consolidation of property costs or even the opportunity to release the overhead.

The ability to also provide tactical desktop access quickly, for offshore workers for example, has great benefits. At the time of writing this article, the most widely adopted use for VDI is tactical desktop and application access for offshore or contract workers. We've seen many of our customers adopt VDI and make great use of this feature while leveraging the benefits of this kind of usage.

VDI can help you with security, as well. Keeping your business data secure and centrally recovered, ensuring that it's not walking out of the door on a memory stick, has considerable benefits where these kinds of problems are concerned. The business benefits and generating the business case on this aspect can certainly be problematic, but one most likely worth the effort.

How will it play out?
VDI undoubtedly has some real benefits to offer -- mostly indirect -- but in order for these to become a reality, some of the challenges need to be resolved.

The number one issue with VDI at this time is the layering of the software licence models. We're already starting to see some movement on this and expect to see further changes to the licence models as vendors push to get their new products adopted by the market. Of course, periphery pressure from customers and service providers will also add fuel to the fire, so feel free to mention it to your partner manager next time they call you about adopting their products.

Other areas where customers and service providers will need to work together to leverage the benefits will be virtualising all of the layers in the desktop cake. In order to really provide flexible working and build dynamic environments on the fly, we'll need to get all aspects of the technology virtualised -- the operating system, the hardware, the applications, user profiles and user data.

Andy Goddard is a practice leader for workplace and collaboration at reseller Computacenter and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.

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