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How does virtual desktop performance compare to PCs?

Virtual desktops need to perform similar to physical desktops, or else users become frustrated. Most companies now have enough back-end resources to support speedy VDI connections.

A few years ago, virtual desktops were underpowered and ran on Internet connections that were too slow, but virtual...

desktop performance is now strong enough that VDI shouldn't hinder user productivity.

At best, VDI implementations previously used shared 1 GbE connections, and processing video and graphics-intensive applications added a lot of latency. The difference in virtual desktop performance was perhaps a second or two at best, but that's enough to eat into user productivity. Plus, the slow speed of Internet connections made remote access a nightmare, especially with apps that require a lot of keystrokes.

Things have changed. In-house operations use 1 GbE connection lines, but they typically have 10 GbE backbones. Compute power is way up, and organizations can use solid-state storage to boost VDI performance. The stream processing is quite a bit better, too, driven by the mobile computing industry and the need to display high-resolution video and other graphics on cheap devices.

Wireless connections are also much faster and more pervasive. In the United States, many companies previously used an 8 Mbps wide area network connection, but that has improved over the last three years, and now most organizations can afford a 24 Mbps connection.

For those reasons, virtual desktop performance in the office and at home is now much more consistent and provides a better user experience. The debate between using physical or virtual desktops is instead shifting toward cost and flexibility.

Adobe and Google provide a good example of the improvement in VDI performance. Google made some tweaks to its Android mobile operating system to speed up Chromebooks, and Adobe figured out how to stream a virtual editing console via HTML5. The result is that companies can now enable video editing with simply a $250 Chromebook or a tablet, plus a low-cost subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud.

The fact that such a demanding task can function well over a VDI connection says a lot about the future of virtual desktop performance, and it signifies that someday soon organizations will no longer need traditional desktops in the corporate environment.

Next Steps

Video: Speed is a top concern for VDI users

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This was last published in October 2015

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Is VDI performance fast enough to allow your workers to be productive?
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This questions depends entirely on the context of what you are doing. For most of the things that I do that require me to either remotely or virtually access devices, the performance is consistent enough that I can't really tell a difference. Of course, the more CPU intensive processes are, the more obvious the difference between naive and virtual. This is why I don't do video rendering or game play in virtual environments.
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That's fine if you happen to live in a place that offers such high-speed connectivity for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, far too many regions of the U.S. don't.
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