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Why Microsoft's VDI solution is not very useful

Microsoft's VDI suite is a collection of random products, most of which were not initially invented for VDI and somewhat complex to pull together into a cohesive solution.

Microsoft has traditionally not embraced the concept of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). For the longest time it was actually a technical violation of the Windows desktop license agreement to use Windows for VDI.

Then when Microsoft finally changed that policy, they did so by creating a license called "VECD" (for Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop) which is a new license that's required in addition to your Vista Enterprise license.

Oh yeah, VECD is only available if you have Software Assurance. Ugh! And, even after VECD came out, Microsoft didn't have a VDI product of its own. VECD was created merely so you could use Windows with other vendors' VDI products.

So, it was kind of a surprise when Microsoft announced that they built rudimentary VDI support into Windows Server 2008 R2. This new VDI "product" was created by modifying the existing Terminal Server capabilities to also support VDI (since VDI is really nothing more than single-user Terminal Server) and leveraging virtual desktops running on Hyper-V R2.

But how would Microsoft sell this new capability? Would it be built-in to your Windows license? Of course not!

Microsoft created a new license bundle called the "Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Suite," which, like most Microsoft products, is available in multiple editions. This suite is not a new product, but rather a hodge-podge bundle of most of the different things you'll need to start using Microsoft's VDI platform.

I was initially excited about the VDI Suite bundle; but after thinking about how all the components fit together, now I'm not so sure how useful this will actually be.

The problem is that the "suite" is just a sort of random collection of various products that aren't really related. The "suite" includes:

  • Hyper-V for hosting your desktops
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager for managing your VMs
  • System Center Operations Manager for monitoring everything
  • System Center Configuration Manager for building and managing your desktop images
  • The Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack so you can use App-V to virtualize your applications
  • All the Remote Desktop infrastructure components, like RS Web Access, RD Session Broker, RD Gateway, etc.

Microsoft has always said that its VDI Suite bundle is geared towards lower complexity environments; but that's kind of a catch-22. By definition, if you install all this stuff, you've just created a very high complexity environment.

The other problem is that none of these products were actually created for VDI. Sure, there are elements of Virtual Machine Manager which apply to VDI, and elements of Operations Manager, etc., but this bundle includes about half-a-dozen hard-core Microsoft Server products. I just can't imagine an admin at a small company pouring through (literally) thousands and thousands of documentation pages to configure his or her "low complexity" environment.

The biggest "problem," however, is the price. The Microsoft VDI Suite starts at just $21 per user, per year. I'm worried that a CIO might see that and do a happy budget dance, while the poor admin toils trying to get all this stuff configured.

The good news is that if you're using a third-party VDI product, such as Citrix XenDesktop, VMware View or Quest vWorkspace, you don't need to buy this bundle. (You will, however, still need a VECD license for each user.) And those products each start in the $50 to $100 per user range for persistent licenses. (Remember: The Microsoft VDI Suite is "per year.") So for just a few more dollars up front, which probably cancels out after a few years, you can have a real product that's about one-tenth the complexity of Microsoft's VDI "Suite."

Brian Madden, Independent Industry Analyst and Blogger
Brian Madden is known throughout the world as an opinionated, super technical, fiercely independent desktop virtualization expert. He's written several books and over 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Brian's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. Brian is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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