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A desire for greater security and a need to bolster employee productivity are among the benefits driving the adoption of virtual desktop infrastructure and desktop-as-a-service products, according to a recent study.
The study, titled "Are Desktops Doomed?" and conducted by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) senior analyst Mark Bowker, surveyed 354 North American IT professionals either responsible for or involved in the purchase of productivity applications in an effort to determine the trends in the virtualization market. The survey, Bowker noted, took place before the COVID-19 work-from-home mandates, which have accelerated the adoption of desktop virtualization.
Bowker said that although the traditional desktop is not doomed, organizations are seeing desktop virtualization benefits from both virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and desktop as a service (DaaS), and they are increasingly seeking out the technology.
"Our respondents considered VDI and DaaS as a more secure deployment model than traditional desktop delivery," he said. "There are [also] significant savings, in terms of cost and time, that really stood out."
VDI and DaaS
One surprising finding in the research, Bowker said, was that customers did not see much difference between the data-center-based VDI and cloud-based DaaS technologies.
"These two technologies -- VDI and DaaS -- are ultimately viewed as one and the same. They are viewed as delivering the same or similar benefits … and are really viewed as delivering [on] the same use cases," he said. "One did not provide a silver bullet that the other did."
Per the study's results, respondents saw roughly the same benefits and drawbacks from both technologies. (See "The top benefits and concerns for VDI and DaaS.") IT professionals considered improved security as the top desktop virtualization benefit for both VDI and DaaS products, yet the potential for a security breach was also among their top three concerns.
Bowker explained this somewhat paradoxical finding by noting that the desktop virtualization technologies have better overall security, but the possibility of a breach affects more users. He likened the situation to having all of one's eggs in one basket.
"If you have a hosted environment of these desktops [and] if something bad happens, how many people does it impact?" he said. "If the target is an individual device, maybe just that user is impacted. If the delivery model itself is [attacked], it could potentially have a far greater impact."
Bowker attributed the popularly cited challenge "higher-than-expected costs" as organizations learning they would need to invest in additional infrastructure to realize the benefits of desktop virtualization.
"[That] could mean server, storage and network capacity inside a data center if it was more of a VDI solution," he said. "[DaaS] infrastructure costs could come in the form of cloud capacity, compute storage as a service [and] infrastructure as a service capacity."
The IT perspective
Chris McMasters, CIO of the city of Corona, Calif., said in June his city carefully examined virtualization benefits and drawbacks before deploying the Citrix Workspace platform as a cloud service.
"Continuity was the primary impetus," he said, although other factors played into the decision.
McMasters said the shift to virtualization has changed how his department provides services, resulting in less lost productivity time for the city's workers. In the past, if workers have a problem with their hard drives, they would have to put in a service ticket, wait for IT to send someone over and pick up the device and then wait for a repair.
"That time … between when we take it and the time you get it back causes disruption on your side," he said. "Even if we give you a replacement in the interim, there's still a disruption as that replacement is set up for you."
Multiplying the average repair time by the number of incidents across his organization, McMasters said, resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity. With Workspace, he said, employees could be provided with a thin or zero client through which they could access their desktop and all of their files in the cloud.
"I give you a $90 device, you plug it in and you're back to work in five minutes," he said.
McMasters said the city has also seen cost savings as a result of the shift to virtualization. With most processing moved to the cloud, the city no longer has to buy powerful computers to accomplish necessary tasks but can use thin clients instead. As those machines use substantially less power, the municipality has seen its electrical bill drop.
McMasters added that as the city only pays for the computing use it needs, there are savings compared to on-premises infrastructure. With an on-location server, he said, an organization might only use 100% of its capacity one hour out of the day, meaning it would be overpaying for remaining 23 hours.
As the ESG survey results reflect pre-pandemic thinking, Bowker said, it's likely there is more interest in virtualization services and cloud-based models now. Indeed, he noted, post-pandemic research conducted on IT professionals and knowledge workers by ESG has shown an increased appetite for the kind of remote work that VDI and DaaS can enable.
As organizations shift toward VDI and DaaS, Bowker said, IT professionals will need to rethink their approach to managing desktops. Administrators will need to find ways to monitor how the desktop environment is behaving, the behavior of users and how the environment is performing for them.
"The challenge for an IT professional is to think beyond their current deployment," he said. "They're going to have to manage and maintain [desktops] across a very heterogenous environment that is not always on a corporate network."
The top benefits and concerns for VDI and DaaS
Top three benefits of VDI
- Improved security, 39%
- Reduced IT operational expenses, 38%
- Increased employee productivity gains, 36%
Top three concerns for VDI
- Management complexity, 29%
- Higher-than-anticipated costs, 26%
- Potential for a security breach, 22%
Top three benefits of DaaS
- Improved security, 39%
- Reduced IT operational expenses, 35%
- Improved availability/business continuity, 32%
Top three concerns for DaaS
- Higher-than-anticipated costs, 25%
- Management complexity, 23%
- Potential for a security breach, 22%
Source: Enterprise Strategy Group