Pros and cons of the new desktop management: Six sound bites on VDI

Overheard at an IT conference: VDI is secure, but it won't save you money. Read what else IT pros have to say about virtual desktop management.

As endpoints change with the times, desktop administrators find themselves in a pickle: How do you embrace virtual desktop management and mobility while still providing a quality end-user experience?

For some organizations, VDI is an answer. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) simplifies desktop management, reduces hardware and provides a platform for application delivery. But desktop virtualization has its downsides. IT must deal with remote access control, increased storage requirements and heightened user expectations. Those challenges have left many admins wondering if VDI is right for their environments.

VDI experts have a lot to say about the pros and cons of desktop virtualization, with a few choice quotes coming out of the Interop New York conference last week.

"ROI is kind of a myth when it comes to VDI."
Don Krueger, principal consultant, GlassHouse Technology

VDI isn't known for its money-saving opportunities, although some vendors may tell you otherwise. Costs of VDI include virtualization software, thin client hardware, additional storage and employee training. Getting ROI from VDI isn't easy, but with the right calculations and deployment plan, you can save on hardware, energy and maintenance.

"There's no easy way to test storage for VDI without setting up an entire VDI environment."
Russ Fellows, senior partner, Evaluator Group

Storage is a big pain point for VDI administrators. Fellows warned IT pros against vendors that pitch VDI storage prices per user, because each environment is different and there are no common workloads that vendors can use to come up with those costs. It's also difficult to test storage performance before you deploy, but Fellows suggested benchmarking tools such as VDI-IOmark, View Planner and Login VSI that can help you plan for VDI loads.

"A well-managed VDI environment will be much more secure than if you run everything directly on the endpoint."
Scott Davis, CTO, end user computing, VMware Inc.

VDI comes with some security weaknesses but it can also improve an organization's security. If data is stored on back-end servers rather than directly on hardware, for instance, you don't have to worry if a device gets stolen. Plus, administrators can prevent users from installing potentially malware-ridden software or apps on their devices. It's important to note that Davis said "well-managed" VDI can improve security: If you're not careful, remote access to virtual desktops can leave a hole for hackers.

"Unless you're going to go into the office and have everyone work on consumer devices, then there's still a really good use case for VDI."
John Fanelli, vice president, product marketing, Citrix Systems

With Windows-based applications losing ground, Interop attendees wondered, "What's VDI good for?" Fanelli assured administrators that desktops and laptops aren't going anywhere: Employees still want to access media and other applications on big screens while using a keyboard and mouse.

Fellow panelist Scott Davis added that although a lot of applications will become Web-based, users remain loyal to native apps that often provide a better experience. VDI lets users remotely access a full-blown desktop with all the apps they're used to -- and they can even do so from mobile devices.

"What apps are users actually using? Why would I put an application in their app-base if they're not using it?"
J. Tyler Rohrer, co-founder, Liquidware Labs

Rohrer explained that knowing what your users have and what they actually need is a critical step in VDI project planning. As VDI moves away from delivering full desktops, administrators can deliver only the apps their users absolutely require. That approach to desktop management increases efficiency, productivity and comes in handy as -- again -- Windows-based applications become less widespread.

"Everybody is talking about green technology. How do you supply an extreme amount of energy… and make your [data center] more efficient."
Peter Feldman, CEO, DataGryd

VDI can be environmentally friendly by decreasing hardware and the amount of energy and resources used to maintain that hardware. Virtual desktops also consume much less power than physical PCs do, making the back-end data center more efficient. Jeff Monroe, CEO of Verne Global, added that 2% of power consumption on the planet comes from data centers. That's a lot in the grand scheme of things, so desktop admins could look into going green with VDI.

This was first published in October 2012

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