Practical Analysis: VDI Is An Enabler, But Not A Big Cost Saver

Desktop virtualization may not save a dime over the long haul, but it will let IT use information and serve the business better.
InformationWeek VDI digital supplement - June 2010 InformationWeek Green
Download the entire August 2010 Virtual Desktop supplement,
distributed in an all-digital format (registration required).

Art Wittmann Uptake of virtual desktop infrastructure continues to be slow. Of the 430 business technology professionals who responded to our recent survey, only 16% have VDI in production, while the vast majority (61%) are in testing, pilot, or evaluation phases. It seems to hold that whenever a new technology is going to directly affect how end users function, its uptake will be slower than for technology that's used only by IT teams. But VDI adoption seems slow even when factoring in that consideration.

According to our survey, adoption should be a no-brainer. For those companies that already have VDI in production, more than 90% say their IT teams are satisfied or very satisfied with the technology, while 73% say their users are satisfied or very satisfied and another 18% say users are neutral. That's a pretty strong endorsement for any new technology, so what's slowing VDI adoption?

First, it's reasonable to look past the technology satisfaction ratings. These early adopters almost certainly had a burning need to implement VDI, so the good news is that, for the most part, it filled whatever need they had. We see that many survey respondents are from highly regulated industries, and so the ability to recentralize and control access to applications and data is appealing to them.

But according to many of the comments from respondents, there are still questions about return on investment as well as just how strategic VDI is. It's clear that VDI can solve tactical problems that are hard to solve in other ways. One adopter tells of a decision made outside of IT to use an expense reporting system reliant on Internet Explorer 6. Once IE 7 came out, the only way IT would support the app was through VDI. I guess that's making lemonade from lemons, but it's certainly a less-than-ideal reason to bring new technology into a company.

Similarly, as organizations look to upgrade to Windows 7 or move more applications to smartphones or other non-Windows devices, they again see VDI has a transitional way to support legacy apps that won't run on those new environments. But in the long run, they know that better interfaces are the way to go. For applications that must access centrally held data, that means using a browser where possible and using VDI as a bridge or fallback access method.

While VDI may be an enabler for other productivity-improving initiatives, most IT pros report that it's a separate project with the usual success metrics. In our survey, 68% are looking to cut operating expenses, 65% to save staff time, and 63% to reduce service calls. Because VDI can be expensive, those metrics are reasonable. But as is the case with software as a service, IT pros are finding that while VDI isn't cheap (and may not do well on metrics like savings in operating expenses), it can bring new capabilities in a fairly expedient way.

In that sense, VDI joins a range of information technologies and tools--from SaaS to server virtualization to enterprise social networking to mobility to analytics--that probably won't save IT organizations a dime over the long haul but will let them use information and serve their businesses better.

For small and midsize firms, this can be an especially hard view to take. While a good fraction of the Global 2000 is sitting on healthy balance sheets, the picture is different for smaller companies. But the goal to be a more nimble organization and provide better ways for business partners and customers to access IT resources isn't any different.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

More than 100 major reports will be released this year. Sign up or upgrade your InformationWeek Analytics membership.