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What VDI can -- and can't -- do for you

VDI is not a silver bullet solution to replace the old PC paradigm. Here are some myths surrounding what VDI can do and the truth about better desktop virtualization alternatives.

Many companies invest in VDI technologies believing it will solve desktop management problems, but it isn't a silver bullet fix. Even after realizing this, IT pros continue to justify the investment with contrived rationalizations to validate their decision.

Call it buyer's remorse -- or perhaps justification for an expense not well-researched, we're not sure -- but we keep hearing the same justifications for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) over and over. So, we've collected five myths that seek to justify the VDI approach as a wholesale replacement to the status quo for IT service delivery.

Myth #1: VDI is the answer
IT is tasked with right-sizing the delivery of applications and data to business' users. For some, the answer to that call is VDI.

VDI is only one way to deliver apps and data to end users. There are a myriad of other application delivery options: local installation, application streaming, application presentation, presentation of streamed applications and presented desktop sessions. Each of these offers a different user experience and different administration and cost models.

Stating unequivocally that "VDI is the answer" is orthogonal to the question itself. The question IT should ask is "what's the best way to enable business functions?" -- not "what technologies can we use to fix our problem?"

Myth #2: We need VDI to deliver our applications
VDI-based desktops offer easier administration of some applications compared to other delivery mechanisms, such as application presentation. However, the reality today is that nearly every application runs quite well atop nearly every desktop delivery model. So, you don't need VDI to deliver your application sets.

What is necessary are experienced technicians that understand how application delivery works. Choosing VDI above other approaches because "it's easier" is tough to swallow when the cost differential still today remains so significant.

Myth #3: VDI is required for centralized security
Centralizing data back into the data center is absolutely a boon for security. When users work with data inside the data center, any severance of that connection has a smaller impact on data exposure.

What's faulty in this myth is the assumption that only VDI solves this problem. Of the range of application delivery infrastructures outlined above, many offer exactly this kind of centralization.

Presented desktops and applications both exist in the data center, as does the presentation of server- or desktop-streamed applications. All of these approaches offer what the business really wants -- the secured access to applications and data without the overhead of a full VDI environment.

Myth #4: VDI eliminates desktops
The belief that VDI eliminates the need for desktops is perhaps the biggest lie of all. It's certainly the most amusing.

In the traditional desktop world, each user has a PC. Rip out the traditional desktop delivery model and replace it with VDI and end users still need a computing device. That device might be a thin client or a zero client, or even a PC. Either way, desktops still exist.

Myth #5: VDI eases desktop management
The final myth is that VDI simplifies desktop management.

VDI uses desktop clones which let administrators source every desktop from a single, central image. The clones then evaporate anytime a user logs out and they get a fresh image when they log in.

However, you have to consider that applications need to be packaged for automated app delivery. That packaging process takes time and effort. It also requires skills and experience. Only with properly packaged applications can a VDI's core image be delivered per user requirements with the kinds of full automation that eases desktop management.

And guess what? Once you've packaged your applications, those applications can be delivered via any delivery infrastructure. They can be streamed to a local desktop for local installation, streamed to a presentation server, or even streamed in a just-in-time fashion to some desktop instance for later application presentation.

At the core of IT's desktop management problem is a need for simple application packaging.

That said, we believe that VDI is a powerful desktop delivery mechanism for securely delivering applications and data to users. But server-hosted VDI is just one of many approaches and unfortunately, VDI is quite heavyweight in accomplishing the task.

So, before choosing VDI, package your applications. It's a challenging activity that you'll probably hate. But in doing so, you'll gain an unbelievable benefit in automation. You'll open yourself for delivering applications in any way that makes sense for user requirements. And you'll find that you're actually able to directly solve that core business problem: How do we best enable the functions of business?

Read more from Greg Shields

Greg Shields
, MCSE, is an independent author and consultant based in Denver with many years of IT architecture and enterprise administration experience. He is an IT trainer and speaker on such IT topics as Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. His recent book Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed is available from Sapien Press.

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