Since no single virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) package includes all the pieces for a complete virtual desktop environment, enterprise VDI installations are typically a mishmash of interconnected products. If something breaks, where does the IT manager turn for support?
For instance, VDI poses storage challenges. Vendors, such as Atlantis Computing, sell products that claim to offer a fix. Then, to give end users personalized desktops, IT shops may call into service a profile management software package from companies such as RES Software or UniDesk Corp. To broker a virtual desktop, IT pros need an agent such as VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop. This bundle of technology lives on top of a server virtualization layer.
"The final picture is what I call a 'VDInstein;' a VDI-Frankenstein," said Claudio Rodrigues, CEO at WTS Labs, a Canadian consulting firm. "It's a patchwork of solutions, all trying to work together to fix the issues created by VDI."
Rodrigues said he's worried that so many immature technologies running side-by-side can be a ticking time bomb.
"Up to which point are we all creating a 100% unsupported environment, where once something blows up, the main vendors tell you, 'Sorry, sir. We do not support that," Rodrigues said. "And if that is the case, is it worth all the risks?"
To avoid this, the big vendors -- VMware, Citrix Systems, Microsoft and Symantec -- are working hard to stitch together more integrated enterprise products. In the meantime, IT pioneers of virtual desktop technology should be prepared to call more than one vendor if they need help. In some cases these vendors may not even fully understand the ins and outs of their own products. For example, Dan Powers, an IT manager with a major telecommunications provider in Nebraska uses VMware's View virtual desktop technology, AppSense and application virtualization tools. While no vendor has refused to give support when needed, he said the vendors don't offer the level of expertise he expects. "Microsoft gives me grief and spends more time up-selling me," Powers said. "VMware grew so fast that [it is] staffing the phones with bodies and manuals, not experience. [ditto AppSense]. "I cannot afford to be down, and when a crisis occurs I need immediate, knowledgeable support. This is just not available in the VDI realm yet from anyone."
Powers said his VMware and AppSense sales engineers help him get proper attention, but their time is limited.
"To some extent, we're on our own for now," he said.
Microsoft's own support policies
Microsoft's support policy for virtualization is the same for desktop and servers. Specifically, customers can call the virtualization product vendor or Microsoft for issues related to Windows Server running on validated virtualization offerings.
"Whichever company is contacted first will try to resolve the customer's issues. In the event a solution cannot be determined, the technical support representative, with the permission of the customer, can use TSANet to contact the other company to help solve the customer issue," a Microsoft spokesperson said via email.
Microsoft's support policy for non-supported virtualization offerings isn't as cordial; when an issue occurs on non-validated virtualization products, the customer has to re-produce the issue independently from the non-supported hardware or software. IT pros can do this on Windows Server 2008 (with Hyper-V), the actual hardware platform with the Windows operating system installed on it, or on both.
And while application virtualization vendors support their own offerings, to do serious troubleshooting, application providers often require their app be installed directly on an operating system residing on a physical machine, said Jeff Moore, an IT infrastructure planning manager at a bank in Montana.
But as desktop virtualization moves into the mainstream, support will follow. Until then, IT pros should become familiar with their vendor support policies in VDI environments, and shouldn't expect VDI to lower support costs.
"For now, organizations need other reasons, like data security, to justify VDI," Moore said.