VDI performance still falls short of PCs

Despite vendors' best efforts, virtual desktops still can't hold a candle to PCs -- and it might take until 2014 for VDI performance to catch up.

VDI vendors claim that virtual desktops trump Windows PCs, yet they have bent over backwards in recent years to deliver a PC-like experience. IT pros want to know: Why not just use a PC?

Nearly every acquisition and improvement Citrix Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. have made to their virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offerings in recent years has been in the vein of delivering a full PC experience. They have yet to achieve that goal for VDI performance.

Even VDI devotees are singing 'Kumbaya.'

Citrix and VMware both added offline support to allow users to work on virtual desktops without an Internet connection. Each has also acquired profile management software that gives end users the type of personalized experience they get with PCs.

Plus, both vendors continually improve their remote desktop protocol technologies with the goal of delivering PC-like performance for virtual desktops. (Teradici, the vendor that delivers VMware's protocol, refers to PC over IP [PCoIP] as the "protocol that enables a true PC experience for desktop virtualization.")

The truth of the matter, though, is that while IT administrators can cobble together these and other technologies to deliver virtual desktops that look and act like PCs, virtual desktops still have a ways to go. Gartner Inc. predicts that hosted virtual desktop capabilities won't provide a user experience comparable to that of PCs until 2014.

Since solid VDI performance isn't promised, most companies continue to rely on PCs. Enterprises that have evaluated VDI use a mix of PCs and remote desktop technologies, including application virtualization, Microsoft's Terminal Services and workstation virtualization, according to the Virtualization Decisions 2011 survey of more than 500 IT pros that was conducted by SearchServerVirtualization.com.

VDI still headed uphill

But that doesn't mean IT pros should give up on VDI, which offers benefits over the status quo, said Todd Knapp, CEO of Envision Technology Advisors, a virtualization consultancy based in Providence, R.I.

"The philosophy of virtual desktops surrounds not trying to teach new dogs old tricks," Knapp said. "We want to deliver something that is easier and more flexible than using a PC."

More on VDI adoption

The myth of desktop transformation

VDI adoption slow through 2012

Application delivery key to VDI adoption

Server-hosted VDI offers IT administrators a way to centrally manage desktops, which is simpler than managing hundreds or thousands of individual PCs. Because virtual desktops aren't tied to hardware, VDI also affords flexibility in that end users can access their desktops and apps from any Internet-connected device.

As VDI performance improves and the technology becomes more mature, less expensive and less complex to deploy, we will see an increase in the speed of deployment of VDI -- or what Gartner calls "hosted virtual desktops" (HVDs) -- over the next five years, according to the research firm.

By the end of 2016, 30% of large organizations (those with more than 1,000 users) will have deployed HVDs to 20% of their users or more. In all, HVDs will be used to deliver client computing capabilities to 77 million users by 2016, Gartner predicts.

Compared to the more than 87 million PCs that Gartner said were shipped worldwide during the second quarter of 2012, that is a drop in the bucket, but it looks like desktop virtualization is finally on its way.

VDI vendors turn to physical desktops, too

Still, VDI performance levels mean that desktop virtualization remains an end-user computing niche, and vendors recognize this. Desktop virtualization vendors had ignored physical desktops in recent years under the belief that VDI would dominate the market, but the fantasy of virtual desktops displacing PCs is over.

Virtualization vendors have admitted that end-user computing encompasses far more than virtual desktops, and even VDI devotees are singing "Kumbaya."

The prime example is VMware's May acquisition of Wanova Inc. to gain centralized image management for physical desktops. The virtualization pioneer, which for years has preached the virtues of desktop virtualization, has committed to use Wanova Mirage to provide customers with single image management for physical desktops.

"We do not see the world of end-user computing exclusively through the lenses of virtual machines, and I am very excited about this opportunity to redefine what desktop virtualization is and how it fits into our vision for [end-user computing]," said Vittorio Viarengo, VMware's vice president of marketing for end-user computing, in a July blog post.

Citrix also supports the philosophy that VDI isn't the be-all, end-all through its FlexCast technology. Citrix acquired Virtual Computer earlier this year to integrate its NxTop client-side virtualization software into the Citrix desktop portfolio. NxTop allows IT to centralize PC management and it integrates with VDI.

Other desktop virtualization vendors have begun to expand their reach beyond virtual desktops. Liquidware Labs Inc. recently introduced a departmental application management feature that will extend to physical desktops.

PC support will help these vendors get out of the desktop virtualization box and into mainstream physical desktop environments. That's not to say they plan to abandon desktop virtualization; as Gartner's predictions show, there is business to be had.

But the end-user computing trend is that many companies will deploy a mix of virtual desktops and physical desktops, said Gabe Knuth, desktop analyst and BrianMadden.com blogger. Cloud, Desktop as a Service (DaaS) and cloud-hosted applications will play into the equation as well.

"VDI has been slow, but at the end of the day all we want to do is manage all of our desktops," Knuth said. "If companies like VMware don't give us a way to manage virtual desktops and physical desktops, we won't use them."

This was last published in November 2012

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as performance grows but also if the yearly cost goes down there will be a boost.
VDI is the future for sure
Currently using Hyper V/VDI in production for about 125 users. No complaints, especially with server 2012 and Windows 8. We would totally disagree that VDI lags behind PC's
VDI at 250/unit and 600 TCO
PC for 650-1400/unit and 3000 TCO.
Who cares about a performance gap except for a handful of VIP, Field engineers and high end CAD?
Lots of great messages in the article. VDI deployment has been limited to call centers and task workers. In the new world of mobile workforce and BYOD trend, IT needs much better solution to scale. Traditional VDI to overhaul the desktops to virtualized datacenter doesn’t work. Companies can mobilize their workforce quickly and easily by leveraging a combination of physical PCs that employees already have, and IT-hosted virtual app / data delivery infrastructure. Splashtop for Business, from my company, is such solution… fast, simple, secure way to enable mobile access from any device to corporate desktops, with access to all their apps and data. We also extend existing VDI infrastructure to mobile devices.
Mark Lee, CEO Splashtop
It will continue to evolve past the VM-across-the-wire model.
Usually traditional desktop visualization (Citrix, VMWare, MS) harms overall performance and the connectivity to the peripherals is limited. However, there are some emerging technologies which overcome these inherent limitations of the traditional VDI. For example, we explore two on the NEXTTI (in Las Vegas last week): Zirtu (won of the 2012 Best Newcomer) and MokaFive (which was the this year's silver medalist). These desktop visualization software products are both running directly on the physical hardware without the unavoidable redundancy of the classic VDI, which is executed on the top of the Virtual Hardware layer.
At Virtual Acceleration we tune VDI environments to perform MUCH better than desktops
Networking standards will be put in place over time to ensure that the relevant protocols will be taking into concideration thus allowing better user experiences on a VDI platform. Also network speeds are increasing allowing for better throughput of data also allowing for more relaxed traffic shaping. Thus allowing greater speeds for those protocols
Insurance companies are adopting VDI. It will replace desktops in the near future.
It is true, large VDI vendors like VMware or Citrix, based on hypervisors and SAN costs have not been able to address market need. But some independent vendor with this different approach, leveraging endpoints perfomances like Neocoretech have been able to manage performance and cost. YouCLOUD.fr team.
VDI vendors need to deliver something more than the "PC Experience." It is time for the next evolution in user device to application interface. As much as most of us do not want to admit it, the old "Green Screens" connected to mainframes were more secure and less costly than what we have today and would be more than sufficient for most applications. TES
It will decrease in it's current form until Microsoft transforms licensing. The increase will come in forms of application hosting.
Operational efficiency will drive adoption and a good-enough user experience will be ... good enough.
It's important to not hand wave on performance and experience. My VDI desktop at work is far faster than my laptop most of the time. Why? Because most of the time, I have access to significantly more IOPS than my 5400rpm HD on my laptop provides and my desktop is right next to my application servers in the datacenter. Is it as good at watching full screen video? No. But for what I do at work I prefer it.