In the 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm criticizes the idea of resurrecting dinosaurs by saying to park owner John Hammond, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."
That sentiment can easily be applied to IT professionals considering virtual desktop infrastructure. The idea of VDI, which puts users' virtual desktops in one centralized location, allowing IT pros to manage and update multiple desktops at once, is tantalizing, but it's not for every organization or use case. Before taking the VDI plunge, IT pros must not only ask themselves if they can use the technology, but if they should.
Of course, applying the wrong VDI use cases won't result in dinosaurs rampaging around terrorizing tourists -- probably -- but it can certainly cause a host of unwanted problems.
Before IT pros can even make the decision to move to VDI, they must evaluate a few key things. First, they must understand how VDI will fit into their organization, including how they will maintain security and work through application licensing.
On top of that, they must understand what endpoints users should work with to access their virtual resources, including whether to provide thin clients or allow users to work with personal devices.
In addition, setting up a VDI deployment is not cheap. Centralizing all the resources that support desktops in one place consumes a lot of time and money. IT must invest in the infrastructure necessary to run everything and take the time to set it all up.
Then, of course, there are the users themselves. Many users resist change. As a result, IT must invest time and resources into training users on virtual desktops and explaining the value of the technology. And, once the transition to VDI begins, IT pros must make sure users don't notice a slip in the performance of their desktops.
The importance of user type and location
When IT pros think about what VDI use cases are a good fit, they should consider the types of users they have and where their users work. Power users, who work with graphics-intensive applications, have much different needs than task workers who often work with a single simple application.
There are four main user types IT pros should plan for:
- Task workers, such as retail employees, consume a minimal amount of resources and generally work with only one or two applications to accomplish simple, repeatable tasks.
- Knowledge workers are the next step up. This includes accountants, who work with large documents and require email and internet access. They consume more resources than task workers.
- Power users, such as app developers, consume the most resources and work with computer-aided design apps and more graphics-intensive applications.
- Kiosk users, such as students at a library, access shared devices in public places.
In addition to the user type, IT must also look at where users are actually doing their work when considering VDI use cases. There are four main categories when it comes to location, as well.
- Local users work from desktops at a central location, such as an office.
- Remote users work from the same place on a daily basis, but are not in the same location as the data center.
- Mobile users are always on the move, working from different locations all the time.
- Roaming users are a hybrid of local and remote users, splitting their time across locations.
Good VDI use cases
VDI is a viable option for a variety of situations. VDI is a particularly good fit for the following use cases:
- Remote and local workers. No matter which user category they fall under, remote and local users make for good VDI use cases. That's because they are in centralized locations where users will always have the connectivity they need to access virtual desktops.
- Kiosk and task workers. For kiosk users and task workers in particular, VDI works well because IT can use nonpersistent desktops where users don't save any personal settings and manage one golden desktop image that covers all the desktops.
- Call centers. Like kiosk workers, call center employees typically use the same applications and tools to do their jobs, with little need for personal settings and documentation. Call centers also require frequent changes to their user stations, and VDI makes it easy to manage those. VDI also enables call center agents to access only the tools that they need.
- BYOD deployments. BYOD deployments are becoming more popular, but they also present security challenges for IT. VDI can address those security concerns by keeping the desktop inside of the data center. It also eases BYOD management since IT doesn't need to manage a lot of devices.
- Graphic-intensive applications. VDI is a good fit for employees who use graphic-intensive applications, such as CAD software. GPUs and VDI work well together, especially because admins can share GPU resources with multiple desktops. The processing power of GPUs can even help performance on some operating systems; Windows 10, for example, uses graphically intensive elements such as shading effects and animations. GPUs combined with VDI can even improve virtual desktop density.
When VDI isn't a good fit
VDI is not a good fit for mobile task workers, such as meter readers who may not consistently have access to the connectivity they need to access their virtual desktops or who may not need access to full-fledged desktops at all.
For mobile or roaming knowledge and power users, IT has to evaluate VDI use cases on a user-by-user basis. Some mobile users work in areas where they have consistent connections and won't run into any problems. Their client devices also may be close enough to the data center where they won't experience debilitating latency problems.
Others could be working in remote areas, far from the data center, which would not work well with VDI. The same idea applies to roaming users who could spend much of their time in a less than ideal area to work with virtual desktops.