Government // Mobile & Wireless
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9/12/2013
03:40 PM
Jim Ditmore
Jim Ditmore
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The Year Of VDI: Never

Some companies anticipated replacing up to 90% of their PCs with VDI alternatives. Then tablets changed the equation.

The enterprise popularity of tablets and smartphones at the expense of PCs and other desktop devices is also sinking desktop virtualization.

The heyday of virtual desktop infrastructure came around 2008 to 2010, as companies sought to cut their desktop computing costs -- VDI promised savings from 10% to as much as 40%. Those savings were possible despite the additional engineering and server investments required to implement the VDI stack. Some companies even anticipated replacing up to 90% of their PCs with VDI alternatives.

But something happened on the way to VDI dominance. Employee demand for mobile devices, in line with the BYOD phenomenon, has refocused IT shops on delivering mobile device management capabilities, not VDI. On-the-go employees are gravitating toward new lightweight laptops, a variety of tablets and other non-desktop innovations that aren't VDI-friendly. Mobile employees want to use multiple devices; they don't want to be tied down to a single VDI-based interface.

Given that the VDI interface is at best cumbersome on a touch platform, there will be less and less demand for VDI as the way to interconnect. Highly mobile alternatives will only increase in popularity over the next few years as the war between Apple, Android and Microsoft/Nokia intensifies and they produce better and cheaper products.

Meantime, PC (both desktop and laptop) prices will decline even faster as the industry tries to sell its overcapacity. Already, Dell and Lenovo are lowering prices just to hold their volumes steady. And with even more devices entering the market (smart TVs, smart game stations, etc.), the market will get bloody. The end result for IT shops will be $300 laptops that are pretty slick and come loaded with Windows (maybe even Office).

At those prices, VDI will have minimal or no cost advantages, especially when taking into account the backend engineering costs. If companies can buy $300 laptops or tablets that are preferred by most employees, they'll be hard pressed to pass them up and impose VDI. By the end of next year, VDI solutions could cost more than conventional client devices (e.g., that $300 laptop). That's because the cost of VDI's main components -- servers, engineering work and support -- won't drop nearly as quickly as PC prices.

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There's no escaping the additional engineering time and attention VDI requires. Its complex stack (either Citrix or VMware) still requires more engineering than a conventional desktop solution. And with that complexity, expect bugs between the client, VDI and server layers to impact user experience.

At Allstate, for example, we've experienced more than our fair share of defects in our recent enterprise upgrade of both desktops/laptops and VDI across 40,000 clients. Despite an updated and fully engineered VDI solution, we continue to find bugs between the virtualization layer, Windows and third-party products. And this is for what should be a mature technology platform by now.

Faced with higher costs, the need for more engineering resources (which are scarce) and employee demand for the latest mobile devices, organizations with extensive VDI deployments will allow significant erosion of them. Some will reduce the scope of current VDI deployments. Others evaluating VDI will jump instead to mobile-only alternatives, more focused on tablets and smartphones. IT shops will not want to support VDI for an employee who also has a tablet and/or conventional laptop or desktop environment because that setup essentially doubles the cost. This is a long fall from the lofty goals of 90% VDI deployment.

An interesting phenomenon in the rapidly changing technology world is when a tech wave gets overtaken well before it peaks. Think optical disk storage in the data center in the 1990s. Or, more recently, netbooks, whose cost and simplicity were overwhelmed by smartphones (from below) and Ultrabooks (from above). It's very difficult for any technology to carve out a sustainable market niche based on cost advantages alone.

I'm sure there will still be niche VDI applications, such as in offshore development centers, especially where VDI enables better control of software licensing. And small segments of the user population will swear by the flexibility to access a client device from anywhere they can log in, without having to carry a device.

Long term, however, VDI solutions will serve maybe 10% of the employee population, perhaps 20%, but not more.

What is your company's experience with VDI? Where do you see its future? Please tell us in the Comments section below.

Learn more about virtualization at the Interop conference and expo in New York, Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.

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erichert685
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erichert685,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/16/2013 | 9:35:59 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
How much do companies value data security? Money certainly isn't the only driver. Keeping company data off edge devices play a big role in virtualization.
Datalas
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Datalas,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/16/2013 | 9:01:05 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
Having spent years trying to solve mobile device management, the value in VDI even for HTML5 apps is that the issues about browser and add-ins can be manged by a central group and not have to deal with what software is running on the end user device. I agree with you that it is all about the right tool for the right job.
Datalas
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Datalas,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/16/2013 | 8:55:31 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
Virtual Apps makes seems to be a better fit than Virtual Desktops for a tablet. I don't know if Microsoft tablets will get enough traction to let them be viable for task workers. For knowledge workers Virtual Apps may be easier to port to a tablet form factor. I don't know if humans will be willing to talk to their tablets to get past the slow data input needed by content creators or editors. If the user process can be converted from text interactions to motion interactions then those apps can be make VDI friendly.
Datalas
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Datalas,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/16/2013 | 8:48:30 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
VDI is not dead, it just is not for everyone.
For industries where a majority of the computer workers are task workers that use a client device while sitting or standing at a fixed location with large volumes of text input will need a quality keyboard and pointing device (mouse) ergonomically next to the keyboard. For these types of task workers VDI may still be viable. If your users need multiple monitors that are 24" diagonals to do their job then tablets will not cut it nor will cheep laptops. I believe if you divorce the source of the compute from the device the end user interacts with you can reduce your labor to manage the environment when you have sufficient scale. Thus VDI may be best suited for companies that are large enough where the scale of the problem is solved by a centrally managed VDI ecosystem justifies the effort. Key attributes are companies where desktop images and local parts depots are problematic. Companies so large that end user device refresh is a continuous process that ever ends. A company where contractors or employees are allowed to bring there own PC but the company has high governmental compliance issues is where VDI provides significant value.
So VDI is not dead it just past the hill of hype and should be used where it fits.
erichert685
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erichert685,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/16/2013 | 12:52:38 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
Even if there is little to no cost saving with virtualization, what price do companies put on data security? Keeping data off your edge devices has to be worth something....
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/13/2013 | 6:26:02 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
Parallels looked like magic to me when I started using it. Of course, I did not envision having an iPad and an iPad mini back then.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/13/2013 | 5:23:20 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
HTML5 apps, both browser based and native, should make this VDI discussion a moot point. If every device is essentially a thin client (very little installed software to maintain), then the argument becomes what is cheapest/best hardware for the job (Touch, smartphone, laptop, desktop with three 24" monitors, etc).
VDI is being crippled by vendors like Microsoft anyway. Did you know Microsoft now forces an extra license (and recurring cost) to run a copy of Win XP you already own in a virtual environment? I see so many vendors trying to protect their revenue from virtualization, defeating much of it's cost efficiency.
Unless you have tremendous scale, like Allstate the author works for, you can't generate any cost savings with VDI. And as he points out at Allstate, even this is slipping away.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
9/13/2013 | 3:49:51 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
Apple's Parallels is supposed to offer a more "touch friendly" interface for classic desktops (OSX and Windows). I haven't used it but I read a review and wondered why Apple is pushing this envelope when Microsoft so badly needs something like this to make Win8's desktop more "touchable".
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
9/13/2013 | 3:45:41 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
Really? I see a lot of folks connected to free Wifi sipping coffee while reading their e-mail in Outlook on their iPad. Unless I missed the big reveal of Office for iPad, they must be using some kind of VDI/RDP/Citrix thing.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/13/2013 | 2:46:17 PM
re: The Year Of VDI: Never
This is one tech we should just put a stake in, along with the kludgy legacy software that is used as justification, and move along. I realize companies and vendors have sunk investments, but at some point you have to cut your losses and walk away.
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