To VDI or Not to VDI

David Tan

The economy is improving. Maybe slowly, but there are definite signs of a recovery taking place. Now is time to review all those IT projects you may have put on the back-burner during the last 12 months. How convenient it is that as companies start reassessing their IT initiatives and likely prepare to spend some money again, Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system is out in the marketplace and for the most part getting rave reviews? Does this mean it's time for a desktop refresh? Should the PC makers be licking their chops waiting for all the new enterprise orders to pile in?

Well, not so fast. What better time to evaluate the future of your computing infrastructure than on the precipice of a major desktop upgrade? For the first time ever, there are true alternatives to deploying hardware platforms to every one of your users. Sure, virtual PCs have been around in various forms for a while, but they have only really become viable with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) technology the last 12 months.

There are really three main methods for deploying desktop virtualization to end users in a company. There is, of course, the traditional hardware-based model where every user gets a computer on their desk. This offers the highest level of performance and customization, but the lowest level of standardization and manageability. In other words, great for end users, bad for IT. The second is more traditional server-based computing. This would be something like Microsoft's Terminal Services (now called Remote Desktop Services), or Citrix XenApp. This is reminiscent of the old dumb terminals method of end user computing. This is the opposite of thick client desktops, in that it offers the lowest level of customization for end users, but the most standardization and manageability for IT. In other words, great for IT, not so much for end users.

Naturally, when most IT people hear this, the conversation ends. Unfortunately, we do sometimes need to appease users (especially the ones in HR and finance), so there needs to be a third option. This is where VDI comes into place. VDI is a cross between the other two options. End users get remote access to their own virtual desktop session (not just remote access into a PC in a closet somewhere). The remote session is a combination of a standard locked-down desktop image (a la server-based computing), and a series of customizations for the user. Customizations can be anything from desktop settings (wallpaper, screen savers, etc.) to business applications. The beauty of this scenario is you get to lock down and manage the desktops however you need to, plus users get the programs and settings they need to work. You also get the benefits of server-based computing, such as only needing to install a program or an update once, but at the same time you can run multiple versions of a program. It truly is a win-win.

So I know you're thinking there must be some downside, right? Well, yes and no. There is no cost-savings associated with this type of deployment right now. If you are going to weigh the costs associated with a desktop refresh verse a VDI deployment, the costs will probably be very close. In the long run you'll save some money, however, as you won't need to refresh desktops nearly as often. There is also the matter of 'density' in the data center. Regardless of whether you use VDI or server-based computing, you will need some sort of data center investment.

My experience is that VDI takes about two to three times the back-end computer power of a server-based solution, so be prepared to spend some money on horsepower in your data center. The payoff, however, can be great. If you're considering any type of desktop upgrades, and really want to figure out the way to get the best bang for your buck, VDI might just be the way to go.

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Dec 17, 2009 5:12 PM Martin S Ingram Martin S Ingram  says:
David, Your article hits the nail squarely on the head. I am seeing customers using Windows 7 migrations as a trigger for looking at desktop virtualization with the objective of improving manageability in the short term and making future migrations simpler. Momentum for this is building rapidly. Key to success in this is giving users a familiar PC experience that allows them to be productive. You mention preserving customizations but actually the whole user environment needs to be managed so that users can be provisioned where-ever we choose and migrated between platforms. Martin Ingram (AppSense). Reply

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