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VDI vendor lock-in might not be as bad as it seems

Vendor lock-in sounds like a dark cloud IT shops should avoid. But when it comes to VDI, it's not always the end of the world.

VDI vendor lock-in is a bigger concern than ever, thanks to hyper-converged infrastructure, but it might not be...

as bad as many IT administrators think it is.

VDI already lends itself to vendor lock-in because it typically requires multiple physical servers. For example, one server might act as a connection broker, while another hosts the virtual desktops. Admins probably would not be able to configure a VMware connection broker to direct traffic to a Microsoft Hyper-V host containing virtual desktops, or vice versa. Mixing and matching infrastructure components like that usually won't work, and definitely isn't supported.

Hyper-converged infrastructure breeds vendor lock-in

VDI already lends itself to vendor lock-in.

The primary reason for the rise in VDI vendor lock-in concerns is hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) which has become a go-to option for desktop virtualization deployments.

Hyper-convergence is attractive because it combines hardware and software in a single unit. HCI vendors' performance match their hardware so the different components are designed and tested to work together. And vendors optimize and certify the software for the hardware.

The problem with HCI is that what IT gains in simplicity and reliability, it loses in flexibility. Each node in a hyper-converged system contains discrete compute, network and storage resources. Because vendors design the hardware to be modular, VDI shops cannot upgrade individual components. If an organization requires additional capacity, it must add nodes to the existing infrastructure.

How to get the most out of hyper-converged infrastructure

Although a variety of vendors offer hyper-converged products, mixing vendors within a hyper-converged deployment simply is not an option. As a result, VDI vendor lock-in becomes a very real issue.

Still, organizations that use HCI for VDI are not automatically locked into a single vendor's product. It is possible to use multiple hyper-converged systems, as long as IT keeps the hardware separate. An organization could conceivably have a cluster of Dell hardware, and a separate cluster of Hewlett Packard Enterprise hardware, for example. Dealing with multiple vendors could increase management costs, however.

VDI vendor lock-in is not all doom and gloom

Vendor lock-in has its good and bad points. On the one hand, it creates vendor dependency, which could lead to price gouging. In addition, if an organization's VDI vendor goes out of business, it could cause a lot of problems.

On the other hand, a uniform technology deployment from a single vendor may reduce overall support costs. If, for example, all of an organization's servers are of a particular brand, the support staff will be very familiar with the nuances specific to that brand. The familiarity should make it easier for them to resolve problems, because the IT staff has intimate knowledge of the vendor's way of doing things.

Organizations should not pass on innovative technologies just to avoid vendor lock-in. Imagine for a moment a particular vendor creates a brand new, must-have technology no one else in the industry has even thought of. Assuming the new technology is useful, customers will flock to the vendor in question, which creates vendor lock-in because no other vendor offers the feature or capability in question. That doesn't make it a bad thing in this instance though.

Next Steps

A look at five options for HCI for VDI

Why HCI for VDI works

HCI for VDI pop quiz

This was last published in November 2016

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