Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI): The benefits when combined with unified communications

By combining virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) with unified communications (UC), organisations can lower costs, meet green IT objectives and allow flexible working. An expert discusses the benefits of VDI and UC and how to deploy the technologies effectively.

The adoption of server-based virtualisation is gaining pace as organisations face ever-tighter budgets. However, many of the potential benefits of desktop virtualisation are yet untapped. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) presents the opportunity to fundamentally transform the cost model of desktop computing from device costs to power consumption and support.

While the VDI model is simple, planning is crucial if organisations are to exploit virtual technology to meet key business objectives.


Chris de Silva, managing director of NEC Philips Unified Solutions,

Furthermore, by combining VDI with unified communications, organisations can meet key strategic objectives, such as carbon footprint reductions to the introduction of flexible working. However, making this work requires careful planning, from specifying each user's desktop environment to building resilience. Without a strategic approach, VDI could fundamentally undermine business stability.


The costs of desktop computing
The ever-expanding and increasingly complex desktop infrastructure is now a significant financial and resource burden for every IT department. From the escalation in mobile devices and remote working to the increasingly complicated desktop devices, support and maintenance costs are spiraling out of control.

For any organisation with a large user population, the combination of support costs and escalating power costs is now placing the spotlight on a need for more cost-effective desktop computing. And having begun to attain the clear cost and environmental benefits associated with server virtualisation, a growing number of IT departments have turned their attention VDI.

Impose control over desktop environments
Replacing expensive PCs with virtual thin client devices delivers a huge range of VDI benefits. Not only do these devices cost a fraction of the price of a PC, they also have a far longer lifespan with a typical six-year warranty. With most devices highly recyclable, disposal costs are far lower as well, creating a significantly reduced lifetime cost of ownership.

Power consumption is also lower, with thin client devices using at most 30% of the power of the PCs they replace, including the proportion of server power. Indeed, if virtual desktop infrastructure is added to server virtualisation, organisations can achieve significant reductions in power consumption: The virtual infrastructure is estimated to use 60-70% less power than existing physical environments. This enables the IT department to support strategic targets on reducing CO2 emissions whilst also driving down costs.

However, the real cost benefit is derived from a transformation in desktop support. Thin client devices can be supported remotely, significantly reducing the time it takes to resolve problems. Furthermore, with no local disk, these machines are much more robust: Users cannot download and store viruses that could compromise the infrastructure, and vandalism and theft are also reduced.

Should users experience a problem, IT support can remotely revert the system to the last overnight backup and reload the image. In the event of complete hardware failure, a new device can simply be plugged in and set up within minutes, whilst the failed device is sent off for repair/replacement under warranty. As a result, the adoption of virtual desktop infrastructure (.pdf) increases uptime, boosting employee productivity and drastically reducing costs.

Flexible working
In addition, by combining VDI with UC, organisations can squeeze even more return on investment by considering telephony at the same time as virtualisation. Reducing desktop devices to one device per desk delivers significant savings in both power consumption and support, whilst organisations can also adopt highly efficient hot desking strategies that further reduce the number of devices required by at least 50%.

By adding the UC element to the solution, users not only gain immediate access to the data setup that exactly replicates the last visit, but the login process automatically transfers that user's telephone number to the extension. This enables employees to work anywhere -- in any building or from a remote location -- at any time, improving space utilisation and reducing waste. UC also supports the adoption of cross-departmental teams using video conferencing to remove the need to travel to meetings by road, rail or air.

Indeed, this integrated approach works not only in the office but also supports far more cost-effective home and remote working, with calls automatically re-routed to the most appropriate telephone number. Employees no longer need to carry laptops holding sensitive data, but instead they connect remotely to the corporate data source via Wi-Fi or 3G. With this approach, organisations can ensure that all data is consistently controlled, stored and managed within the corporate infrastructure.

Combining this flexibility with the low cost of support and improved security suddenly creates a cost-effective, viable strategy to enable employees to work from home as required.

Effective planning
While the VDI model is simple, planning is crucial if organisations are to exploit virtual technology to meet key business objectives, from reducing costs to supporting environmental policies.

This is a huge change from today's desktop, with its user-customised range of applications. In the VDI world, the IT team has far more control -- but to make that work, it is essential to understand and meet user requirements. The IT department needs to take a strategic approach to virtual desktop management, defining specific user requirements to determine the services required. And, while demands on support staff will reduce dramatically, they will need training in new remote management tools.

In addition, the virtual environment has to be highly resilient. Effective VDI requires more than a server, a few thin clients and virtual middleware. Organisations need to put processes in place to ensure desktop images are effectively backed up, that there is robust failover and disaster recovery in place and that the infrastructure can scale to support additional server and desktop devices as required.

Bandwidth is also a critical consideration, especially for remote workers. Whilst none of these technologies demand huge bandwidth requirements, quality of service is essential, especially when running Voice over IP, and to support the emerging demands for video conferencing.

Future proof
IT is facing a challenging juggling act in addressing the growing cost pressures associated with the looming economic downturn, the corporate desire for sustainable business and the flexible working required to deliver competitive advantage.

Virtualisation provides a solution to all these concerns, critically driving down escalating support costs by enabling highly effective remote support of the entire desktop infrastructure. Combining the cost reduction with a quantifiable drop in power consumption and a platform for flexible working strategies, VDI appears to tick every box.

However, without adequate planning, organisations will actually fail to reduce costs or boost green credentials. Instead, by failing to put in place adequate resilience, bandwidth and user-appropriate desktop services, they will fundamentally undermine the quality and stability of business systems.

Chris de Silva is the managing director of systems integrator NEC Philips Unified Solutions and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk 

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