Lately, many of our clients have been asking about virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI, for short). Recent advancements in virtualization and storage technologies have brought the idea of VDI to the forefront of many business and IT department leaders. But most prudent decision-makers need valid reasons for such a major investment; the fact that VDI is new and “cool” is not enough. However, too often we see the focus is only on the potential hard cost savings that can be gained by going to a virtualized desktop environment, and the often-greater hidden benefits are overlooked.
The fact is, in certain environments, with some size deployments, and with some combinations of existing equipment, VDI can be as expensive (or more expensive) than a complete physical desktop refresh. If the decision stops there, organizations risk missing out on many less-tangible benefits and soft cost savings. It is no different when people sold their horses and buggies for cars; cars undoubtable cost more. But the benefits of a car were much greater, albeit harder to enumerate in dollars and cents. We’ve seen these same evolutionary advancements in more recent years with the proliferation of computers, adoption of virtualization, and consolidation of storage in the datacenter. With each advancement, the benefits help to move our organizations along technology’s inevitable evolutionary path, but may not have overwhelmingly-clear hard cost justifications initially.
A fully-deployed virtual desktop infrastructure, when properly configured, will provide numerous hidden benefits to the organization, including:
- Agility: The ability to quickly and seamlessly update applications, add desktops, modify operating systems, and make other business-wide changes is unique to VDI. No longer does the IT staff need to visit each workstation to make updates, or monitor finicky deployment scripts. All changes can be made to a single “parent” desktop and be instantly propagated to dozens or hundreds of desktops. The speed at which your business can adopt to changes and opportunities in this way may very well set you apart from your competition.
- Security: How comfortable are you with all of your company’s trade secrets, confidential information, customer data, and regulated information on hundreds of easily lost or stolen endpoints? With VDI, all of the data resides in a secure datacenter. The endpoints merely view the information and if they are lost or stolen, your data remains secure.Virtual desktop infrastructure also provides for non-persistent, single-use desktops. When a user logs on, they are assigned a brand new, freshly provisioned clone of the parent desktop. When the user logs off, their desktop is destroyed, along with any possible viruses or malware that may have been installed.Security is also enhanced by making the job of patching easy. As security vulnerabilities are identified and patches are made available, IT simply applies these fixes to the parent desktop and updates all of the virtual desktops, thereby providing protection for the entire organization. With VDI there is no doubt that all of the desktops are at the latest version of software and that all endpoints are secure.
- Efficiency: The centralization of all desktop processing makes end user support much more streamlined for the IT department. Because desktops can easily be provisioned, IT no longer needs to fix nagging issues with users’ computers. A new system can be created almost instantly, making user downtime (and IT frustration) almost zero, users (with standardized experience).Users enjoy a must more efficient experience as well. Because they get a newly-provisioned desktop at each logon, their experience will always be the same. Gone are the days of slow computers and settling for poor performance. Rogue programs, viruses, and malware are also eliminated.
- Mobility: With VDI, all of the storage and processing of data occurs in the datacenter. Endpoints simply communicate human input with the server. Because of this, a dizzying array of devices can be used to communicate with a virtual desktop infrastructure. Top VDI vendors have created tablet and smart phone clients. Hardware manufacturers are making VDI clients that are integrated into monitors, VoIP phones, and even wall outlets. So, geographically diverse workers can share the exact same desktop experience while away as users in the office. This opens up the possibility of a much more mobile and wide-spread workforce.
- Backups and Disaster Recovery: Invariably, critical business data resides on users’ C: drives. Seldom is this data backed up or made available as part of a disaster recovery plan. With VDI, all data is stored in the datacenter and can be easily protected and backed up. Likewise, all data, including the virtual desktops themselves, can be replicated to a disaster recovery site. In the event of a disaster, providing identical, working desktops for the organization’s workers takes minutes, instead of days or weeks.
There is a pot of gold at the end of the VDI rainbow; maybe one that you can take to the bank. Many of our clients who have made the transition to virtual desktops tell us that all of these hidden benefits do make a huge difference. It is often a difference that does end up translating into cost savings, greater employee productivity, and competitive advantages.
Today, VDI is rapidly growing in acceptance and adoption. Great strides in the technology, and huge R&D investments are being made to push the capabilities of the various VDI offerings. While it has yet to completely replace the physical desktop world like cars replaced the horse and buggy, it is certainly worth a look. If you have already taken a look, or if you are just getting started, be sure to consider all of the hidden benefits your organization will enjoy courtesy of a virtual desktop infrastructure.
By: Jeffery Kline, RSM LLP