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Next Stop, VDI: Doubling Down On Virtualization A Smart Bet 2

The desktop is the next efficiency play. Here's how to decide on an outsourced vs. in-house implementation.
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High Stakes: Next Stop, VDI: Doubling Down On Virtualization A Smart Bet

Call it one of the smartest bets in IT: Virtual desktop infrastructure technology can help most companies do business more securely and efficiently. Sure, there are exceptions, but you need to at least evaluate the benefits of VDI. So why are some CIOs hesitating? Top fears we hear involve cost, confusion about outsourcing options, and the potential for end-user revolt. But hey, no one ever hit it big by playing it safe.

One result of the recent economic downturn is a cultural shift in the way we do business. Companies willing to take risks and slash overhead while finding ways to maintain or even increase output are the ones that survive, maybe even thrive, when times are tough. In an effort to become recession-proof, CIOs are re-evaluating legacy systems and procedures, looking to identify ways to cut costs and increase productivity.

The resulting demand for more efficient and secure IT systems has created a perfect environment for virtualization to proliferate. In our recent InformationWeek Analytics Virtualization Management survey, one-third of the 391 business technology professionals polled said 75% or more of their companies' production servers would be virtualized by the end of 2011. Now, CIOs looking for the next round of efficiency gains must start investigating application, storage, and desktop virtualization. In our survey, 60% of respondents said they're using or evaluating VDI, and 8% of those have already deployed. The companies we work with in our practice confirm that, over the next few years, we'll see a steady increase in the number of organizations adopting desktop virtualization.

For IT teams considering VDI, our key piece of advice is that executive-level buy-in is critical. Your end users may not even realize you're virtualizing servers, but they'll be very aware of VDI. You need business leaders squarely behind the project. On a related note, be prepared to educate users about how VDI will benefit them; this is no place to skimp on communications and training. On the back end, take into account your IT staff's size and skill set when deciding which architectural model--in-house or cloud--and SLA level are best for your needs.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach: Any mix of applications and operating systems can be packaged and delivered to a range of end users. One exception is data- or CPU-intensive apps like CAD or Photoshop, but trust us, vendors are working on this.

Virtual desktops can be served up privately, from an on-premises data center, or in the cloud via a hosted model. And every day, more players deal themselves into the VDI game, broadening the range of verticals served and enabling technologies supported. For example, one of our clients, Mosaic Technologies, a managed network services provider, uses cloud-based VDI to deliver an electronic health records application on demand without any client-side configuration. Patient data is secure as it never leaves the cloud data center, and the service also features built-in telework and disaster recovery capabilities.

Time To Build

With business support in hand, the next step is to answer architectural and security questions. First, decide what service level you need and what your security posture must be.

Service level: Both in-house and outsourced VDI offers IT the ability to provision desktops and operating systems from a standard image. How fast you can react to problems and how flexibly you can adapt to changing business needs depends on the skill level of your IT group, or in a hosted situation, the service-level agreement you've negotiated.

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