Don Jones and Greg Shields, of Concentrated Technology, firmly believe that business comes first, not technology. While they feel that virtual desktop infrastructure is undeniably cool, they don't necessarily believe that it offers true value to a lot of the businesses that pursue it. In this series of articles, the skeptics outline their arguments for and against various VDI technologies, helping you focus on what your business actually needs -- not necessarily on what a vendor or two might want to sell.
VDI, VDI, VDI.
It has been a long time since three letters had so much impact on the technology industry. However, the virtual desktop infrastructure hype has blinded us to some very important business realities.
Nobody cares about the "desktop"
The first problem with VDI is that the "D" stands for desktop, and we haven't seen many users clamoring for better access to their desktops. What users really want better delivery of applications such as Outlook, Excel and their line-of-business apps.
More from the VDI Skeptics:
Four reasons why VDI might not be right for you
The desktop is just a container for all of that -- you could strip away the desktop, leave the applications and have perfectly happy users. VDI, however, grew out of virtualization technologies that emulate entire computers. The reason VDI delivers a desktop is because that's all it can do. In other words, VDI doesn't offer any element more granular than that. Every user gets a virtual machine (VM), a desktop environment and a computer full of apps. That's what you want for some enterprise scenarios -- but not for all of them.
Why everything now is "virtualization"
A variety of application-delivery techniques has been at our disposal for a long time, but they often weren't very exciting. For example, Microsoft's Terminal Services (now Remote Desktop Services or RDS) does a great job of delivering many types of applications with extremely high user density per server. Technology for accessing virtual desktops is cost-effective and mature. Although it often requires a lot of hacking and tweaking, those techniques are well-understood. In order to remind everyone that it exists, however, Microsoft has to call it "presentation virtualization," as if any application-delivery technology not involving the "V" word isn't worthy of hype.
The right tool for the right job
Instead of focusing on desktop virtualization technologies, we should focus on business needs. After determining what they are, we should look for the least-expensive way of meeting those business needs. VDI may sometimes be the best way to meet your business needs, but it's never going to be the least-expensive option on the table.
You really have to sit down and think about why you want to change your application delivery from the traditional model of installing it on the desktop. What do you hope to accomplish by doing so? What applications do you need to deliver? Should you build an application delivery infrastructure (ADI -- Hey, it's a new acronym!) capable of seamlessly integrating many technologies? For example, should users be redirected to a virtual machine, an RDS server or something else depending upon the apps they're using?
Know your business objectives
Planning a VDI deployment? These tips can help you succeed.
Learn how to assess your IT infrastructure for desktop virtualization
Read the reasons why virtual desktop projects fail
Check out Brian Madden's column on what not to do when virtualizing desktops
Calculate the return on investment from VDI
To get the right tool for the right job, you need to know what the job actually is. Are you trying to reduce maintenance costs? A full VDI solution may not be the best way to accomplish that. In an environment in which each user has a personal virtual desktop, you'd still have the same challenges associated with physical desktop maintenance, such as patching. In addition, users still need endpoints for accessing their virtual computers: If you plan to save money by reusing existing desktops or laptops, then you'll continue to pay for powering, patching and maintaining them. In fact, I've seen some VDI deployments actually increase desktop maintenance overhead.
Just make sure that you can clearly state what your business hopes to gain from a VDI deployment, and then scrutinize possible solutions to make sure they're meeting those goals. Don't take vendors' word for it, either. Make them show you how they'll actually achieve what they're promising. Many products and services can look great in the brochure, but they can't deliver some of the specific features that your organization needs. Having a firm definition of what your business expects will help avoid unpleasant surprises.
As you explore virtualization options, keep in mind: Business first, tools second, hype never.
Next month: What's the deal with VDI storage?
This was first published in July 2010