Now that the cloud is home to many of the top applications that drive enterprise productivity, some are starting to wonder if we will soon see the last vestiges of resistance to the virtual desktop start to crumble as well.
Virtual desktop implementation (VDI) has long suffered from a number of stigmas—some factual, some based on myth—that have kept the technology out of the mainstream. Users have complained about lack of personalization and poor performance while IT has balked at infrastructure costs, security and overall management. As Quocirca’s Clive Longbottom points out, the fear of licensing overruns, difficult patch and update management and the hit on available storage are still strong enough to prevent many organizations from pulling the trigger despite the strides VDI developers have made in addressing these issues.
This is where the cloud comes in. Suppose the enterprise could gain access to virtualized desktops using someone else’s infrastructure? Many top platform vendors like Dell, HP and VMware have been touting VDI along these lines for several years, and now cloud powerhouse Amazon has joined the party as well. The company recently launched the AWS WorkSpaces VDI service to general availability, providing a fully managed virtual desktop environment on its own massive scale-out architecture. The program provides desktop images for as little as $35 per month with no upfront fees and enables seamless integration across workstations, tablets, smartphones and other client devices. The company says it is looking to round out its overall enterprise portfolio in preparation for the day when few organizations will build and maintain their own data infrastructure.
Amazon has long staked its claim as a pure-cloud provider, but others are adapting VDI platforms for private and hybrid architectures. Dallas’ ATScloud, for example, recently introduced the FlashArray VDI Platform, which utilizes the PureStorage FlashArray to enable both improved storage performance and dramatic data reduction to implement VDI across medium- and large-scale operations. At the same time, the platform provides for streamlined desktop management and a more robust and flexible architecture to handle boot storms and other data bursts.
Still, a key component of any virtual desktop solution is graphics. Without the ability to deliver the look and feel of a traditional desktop, plus the rich media that many applications are starting to employ, a virtual desktop will remain a second-rate solution. That’s why VMware recently teamed up with NVIDIA to bring the NVIDIA GRID GPU to the Horizon DaaS platform. By adding a strong 3D graphics component to its multitenant Horizon service, VMware is hoping to reach out to key visual applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and the Autodesk Design and Creation Suites. The intent is to bring VDI out of the call center and other low-level areas to high-order functions like engineering, CAD design and even film and video production.
Will any of this be enough? Despite all the talk of the “post-PC enterprise,” the fact is the traditional desktop remains uniquely suited for a wide range of front-office activities. This does not mean that a virtual infrastructure will be shut out of the executive suite entirely, particularly as more of the top brass comes to rely on mobile tools for desktop access, but it isn’t likely that low-cost, dumb terminals will be the norm any time soon.
However, the cloud offers some key advantages when it comes to building and maintaining the infrastructure portion of VDI. And as more of the application portfolio migrates over to the cloud, it seems likely that the same value proposition that supports CRM and other tools will start to put pressure on the desktop as well.