The virtual desktop is alive and thriving in the enterprise. That may come as a surprise to some considering most knowledge workers access data through either the trusty desktop or a mobile device, but the fact remains that the number of virtual desktop seats is growing and will continue to do so for the remainder of the decade.
What isn’t going to happen is the wholesale replacement of the standard desktop with centrally stored and managed desktop images. Rather, the virtual desktop will perform a number of specialized roles that can be more efficiently enabled by removing much of the computing power from the client. In short, desktop virtualization will not “take over” the enterprise, but will emerge as a crucial component in the distributed data infrastructure.
Research and Markets is the latest analyst firm to reiterate the continued presence of virtual desktops in the enterprise. The group puts compound annual growth for the sector at a healthy 29.7 percent between now and 2019, driven largely by increased demand for secure computing. As infrastructure becomes more application- and data-centric, the need to provide increased portability to the desktop and the security apparatus that surrounds it increases as well. At the same time, knowledge workers are able to integrate their own devices into the enterprise data environment if they can pull the desktop from a common repository.
Desktop virtualization essentially suffers from the high bar that the PC set in the enterprise: the arrival of a universal productivity tool that proved valuable to everyone from the lowliest secretary to the CEO. When the initial VDI solutions hit the channel, they were billed as the “next big thing,” says ZDNet’s Ken Hess, but when issues like performance, network complexity, storage costs and other factors began to emerge, the bloom quickly fell off the rose. Newer web-based solutions resolve many of these issues, but many knowledge workers are still caught up in the notion that the virtual desktop should be able to do everything that the normal desktop does even though the rationales for deploying both solutions are vastly different.
VDI, it turns out, is very effective in highly regimented environments like call centers and help desks, where operators need a few key applications like search and records management to complete their tasks. Traditional desktops are more attuned to complex functions like application development and higher order business activities in which day-to-day computing needs can vary dramatically.
VDI is also emerging as a key enabler for cloud services as providers seek to install their wares in the enterprise environment as quickly and cleanly as possible. An example is Canadian hosted services provider Cartika, which is offering virtual desktops as a means to deliver portable Windows Server and Windows 8 environments. As well, Thinspace is out with a new dedicated virtual desktop solution for its skyPoints distributed computing architecture. By offering the desktop environment along with higher level services, MSPs can skip many of the integration and migration issues that currently hamper enterprise-level cloud adoption.
But service providers should still tread carefully when pitching virtual desktop solutions to clients, says Joe Benik, of Texas-based integrator Insight. The last thing anyone needs is a robust application environment spoiled by a poorly conceived desktop architecture. To that end, providers should be clear on the licensing rules surrounding VDI and the fact that updates to the desktop will affect all terminals, not just a select few. Also, make sure that short-, medium- and long-term goals are centered on client needs, not your own. In most cases, VDI is a win-win for both, but since user requirements are always changing, it helps to remain highly engaged with usage patterns and trouble spots and then adjust the service accordingly.
Virtualization is not the answer to desktop infrastructure challenges, but one option to be considered as the enterprise confronts the demands of mobile computing, Big Data and distributed, virtual infrastructure. When implemented in the right way for the right reasons, it can deliver all of the cost-efficiency and flexibility that earlier headlines proclaimed. But if the idea is to simply replace those aging, clunky PCs on every desk, it will likely cause more problems than it solves.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.