Is VDI Really Worth It?

Arthur Cole

Is it just me, or is VDI becoming the IT equivalent of the swine flu? It's all over the news for a while and everyone is talking about it, then it disappears for a while only to come back next year.

Last fall, it seemed like VDI was about to take over the data center, with all the major virtualization providers targeting the desktop as the next big expansion of the virtual infrastructure. These days, however, while no one is claiming VDI is dead in the water, there nevertheless has been a noticeable shift in the conversation toward more cloud-related endeavors.

Microsoft, for one, seems to have downplayed its hand of late. A recent blog by Senior Director Gavriella Schuster caused a stir earlier this month with its contention that desktop virtualization is actually more expensive that standard PC architectures, provided the latter are managed properly. She claims VDI runs anywhere from 9 to 11 percent more, primarily due to increased software costs. At best, she said, VDI is appropriate for contract employees or shift-based workers, but not the typical office user.

That kind of talk must get under the skin of companies like WhipTail, which claims its flash-based storage array technology drops VDI hardware costs to a fraction of the traditional HDD approach. Known as the Racerunner Virtual Desktop XLR8r, the device delivers more than 150,000 read IOPS, allowing it to serve about 5,000 VDI users for about 37 cents per IOPS. In comparison, the company says a standard Fibre Channel array delivers about 200 IOPS, which means you would need more than 600 devices to serve the same number of users, pushing per-IOPS costs over the $8 mark. Racerunner also cuts latency some 90 percent -- a major boost for users who complain of VDI's poor response times.

Other organizations are lowering desktop hardware costs in more unusual ways -- and who cares if it doesn't actually count as VDI? NComputing has made a nice living out of its vSpace virtualization software, which allows multiple users to tap into a single PC. The company recently introduced a new System-on-Chip solution, the L300, which it says cuts the cost of deployment by a third. In addition, the system is said to shave PC capital and operating costs by 75 percent and energy use by 90 percent.

Regardless of the approach, however, are all desktop virtualization strategies doomed to failure? That's the question Mark Bowker of the Enterprise Strategy Group has been asking for a while. He wonders whether it makes more sense to host virtual desktops on the cloud. In that way, you can offload all apps, OS, policies and settings (and all the associated management responsibilities) while still retaining control of your actual data. Sure, if the cloud goes down, you're in big trouble, but at least it will be the responsibility of your hosted provider to get it back up again. With an internal VDI solution, that onus is on you.

There's no question that the desktop is ripe for a makeover, with some kind of shared resource/virtualization approach in the offing. But because so many of us have become attached to our PCs, this will probably be one of the toughest IT nuts to crack.

But if modern families are willing to trade in their SUVs for an electric car, I guess anything is possible.

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May 19, 2010 3:19 PM Daniel Feller Daniel Feller  says:

Last year it did sound like VDI was about to take over. So what happened? Nothing.  There is still a lot of talk, but now what is happening is that people are understanding (finally) that there is more to virtual desktops than VDI.  Many people I'm talking to are looking at other desktop virtualization alternatives to VDI (hosted shared desktops, local streamed desktops, VDI desktops, local VM desktops).  Each one of these options has pros/cons. In fact, most organizations will likely only utilize a few of the options (those that meets their needs while keeping costs lowest).  This was what my previous blog explained for a particular school district (http://virtualfeller.com/2010/05/18/i-choo-choo-choose-you/)

As for hosting virtual desktops in the cloud. That is a completely different story. And people saying keeping the data internal are failing to explain that challenge with data transmissions between the cloud and internal.  Plus, with licensing challenges of the Windows desktop OS, that makes it much more difficult to do a hosting cloud model for desktop virtualization. 

Aug 25, 2010 6:05 PM Adam Greenblum Adam Greenblum  says:

Despite the cost debate over VDI, it still has its place.  However, it should be used as part of a combined strategy for virtualizing the workplace, along with other technologies such as Microsoft Terminal Server (RDS).  The fact is that Terminal Server has advantages over VDI, while VDI also has advantages over Terminal Server.  That's why most organizations are best served by adopting a hybrid approach, with an optimal mix of Terminal Server (for task-oriented users), VDI (for power users),  and Blade PCs (stock traders, graphic designers, etc.) which delivers the most benefit and platform flexibility to the organization.

Ericom Software's PowerTerm WebConnect facilitates this hybrid approach by managing access to Terminal Server, VDI and Blade PCs, all with one management tool, one product.

Download a free white paper about this hybrid approach at:




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