Analyzing virtual desktop benefits, efficient delivery options

VDI provides desktop management benefits, but infrastructure costs cut into ROI. In part one of this two-part tip, we explore the pros and cons of virtual desktops and deployment options.

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Desktop virtualization provides desktop management benefits and may be a worthwhile alternative to PCs for some companies, but infrastructure costs have a negative impact on ROI. That means companies have to carefully consider if they should make the move and whether to deploy virtual desktops from the data center or the cloud.

Unlinking the desktop experience from the actual physical desktop using desktop virtualization promises radical improvements in service delivery. Desktops are deployed faster, securely and they are available from anywhere with a network connection.

But massive Capex requirements put a damper on those benefits, and so does the IT professional experience gap and unacceptable performance. In fact, when we do the math, many times we can't make the numbers work, so we remain skeptical about VDI.

Perhaps "the numbers" work better when that infrastructure sits in the cloud.

In this article, we take a look at virtual desktops delivery infrastructure and consider why enterprises should bother moving from physical to virtual desktops at all.

Why move to virtual desktops?
Physical desktops serve the need and meet expectations, and managing physical desktops is second nature to IT administrators who solved their desktop troubleshooting and provisioning hurdles long ago.

A move to virtual desktops means a complete shift in how desktops are delivered and managed. And though VDI improves desktop management, the cost models associated with the move from physical to virtual skew when companies realize they still need to pay for physical devices to access virtual desktops.

With these factors shifting the virtual desktop return on investment (ROI) away from positive, do they still make sense for business computing? Are they a good idea?

The answer lies in your use case and your infrastructure.

The value of virtual desktops
The technologies that surround virtual desktop computing are undeniably exciting. Virtual desktops move applications and data off of laptops in the field, and back into the data center where it belongs. So, IT managers responsible for the security of business applications and data gain comfort knowing that a lost laptop won't impact business.

With a well-connected infrastructure, road warrior employees don't have to worry about how to connect to their business applications. Give them a single connection through a simple interface and they can access their virtual desktop and apps from any hotel. With that, you've reset their focus away from technology issues and back on their job role.

Yet, while virtual desktops themselves provide benefits, the delivery infrastructure poses problems. Might the location where desktops reside represent the biggest hurdle to a positive ROI?

Delivering virtual desktops
Smart businesses analyze the options for their delivery infrastructure before committing to a technology. That infrastructure represents the hardware, software, network and storage components that house and deliver virtual desktops to users.

Instead of looking at technology features, companies should look at their user requirements. The image below (from Greg Shields' book, Private Clouds: Selecting the Right Hardware for a Scalable Virtual Infrastructure) identifies what your users see as they look toward your IT services. Some of those services you host as part of the delivery infrastructure you own. Others may be hosted by outside parties and delivered via the Internet.

It shouldn’t really matter to end users how you deliver desktops, because IT services are little more than a black box to end users -- they point to whatever device you've provisioned for them and they expect services to come out. Users also point toward the Internet for other services.

Figure 1: IT Services' Black BoxFigure 1: IT Services' Black Box

At the end of the day, IT has the power to leverage any acceptable delivery infrastructure for providing users access to applications and data. That delivery infrastructure can be owned by your company and reside in your data center. Or, with appropriate controls in place, it can be owned by someone else.

The problem with hosting virtual desktops within your own company is that it may require new servers, storage, networking infrastructure and advanced management tools.

Paying a cloud provider to host your virtual desktop environment eliminates those Capex infrastructure costs and may be more economical, but there are risks associated with cloud that may outweigh those cost benefits.

Those considerations will be explored in part two of this two-part tip next month.

Read more from Greg Shields

This was first published in July 2011

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