The pros and cons of virtualising the desktop environment

The virtualisation of the desktop environment (VDI) essentially involves the migration of enterprise desktop computers to a data centre, which are then delivered over a network to the end users. Once VDI is employed, end user devices are usually replaced with thin-client devices.

Creating a VDI environment is a significant change from the traditional model, where every PC is a self-contained unit with its own operating system, applications and peripherals. This major technology shift means introducing VDI presents both an opportunity and challenge.

A real measure of VDI’s success is the ability to deliver a rich, end user experience – typically not achievable by traditional, server-based, computing methods. VDI can also provide demonstrably significant, operational cost savings – which can be up to 69%.

I have discussed below the considerations, benefits and pitfalls of opting for a VDI environment.

VDI – benefits

The key benefit of VDI is that it enables operational expenses to drop dramatically as users can share resources allocated to them on a utility basis. Virtualization will also improve the data integrity of user information because all data can be maintained and backed-up in the data center.

VDI can dramatically assist in the migration of desktop services to MS Windows7 and with integration to Application Packaging tools, enable organisations to continue running legacy services, until they are ready to upgrade them.

Green with envy

As all types of organisations have increased their input and output over the last decade, server numbers have increased to handle the higher levels of computing power. On top of this, is the extra power required for cooling and storage space – which all provide cost headaches.

With organisations under pressure to adopt green IT in all its forms, buyers should ensure that they are choosing genuinely green technology. VDI lends itself well to this consideration as its use of thin clients, instead of desktop PCs will see a reduction in shipping and distribution costs – and their consequent carbon impact

Businesses also can’t control the cost of energy – it’s not something that can easily be planned for as prices fluctuate in an unstable energy market. However, businesses can adapt new practices to place themselves in the best possible position to counter the changing value of energy. VDI technology provides a real solution by delivering a major reduction in space, power (typically just 11W at full power) – so energy cost reduction and emissions can be achieved.

Better security

The nature of VDI’s set-up also increases the level of internal security, as its management software, controlled at the central point, has the ability to block the USB ports on thin clients. So, with no disk drives in service, this doesn’t leave many options for data to be distributed outside of the business premises.

Simple management

VDI really excels in its computer management capability and using thin clients instead of desktop PCs is a major factor. This is because thin clients are a solid state, which significantly reduce the chance of hardware failure, unlike the moving parts and openings visible with desktop PCs.

In the unlikely event that a thin client experiences some sort of internal failure, an employee can simply move to another monitor, log on and have their desktop in front of them ready for work. This capacity for instant desktop provisioning and near zero downtime, also increases the efficiency of the business. The centralised nature of VDI, with desktop image-management capabilities, will also provide lower cost of deploying new applications and longer refresh cycle for client desktop infrastructure.

VDI – the challenges

Attractive though VDI is, it may prove a bit early for some businesses that are only just turning to data centre consolidation and virtualising their servers – and they may not have the budget to expand this to desktops. Also in the current economic climate, VDI is a major upheaval for organisations and is a costly exercise.

Of course, moving towards VDI will always be more attractive to organisations that have already virtualised their server environment. However, there is still a need to highlight where users would they get benefits over their current system – especially if it is already affordable and won’t need a major revamp for some time.

Various technological initiatives have already been forced upon workers in a number of public sector organisations and have understandably been met by noticeable resentment due to major inefficiencies. Adopting the same approach with disk-to-disk, even with its noticeable advantages, is likely to be met with similar opposition, unless accompanied by thorough change management. This is an area that may have been neglected in previous initiatives.

For those organisations that are ready for VDI, there are potential security risks due to the reliance on connectivity to a corporate or public network. The network will need to be properly managed to avoid possible increased downtime – in the event of network failures. However, this can be prevented by the use of a clustered file system.

Other challenges to overcome, will involve setting up and maintaining drivers for printers and other peripherals. VDI may also present potential difficulties when running certain complex, applications.

Conclusion

So, VDI may not be for everyone yet and a look before you leap approach is required. VDI does provides a complimentary solution to traditional, server-based computing that isolates individual users, eases the migration to Windows 7, dramatically reduces desktop carbon footprint and reduces the management burden of 1000’s of PCs on the network.

The multitude of benefits do stack up in favour of VDI, providing the challenges are understood and a state of VDI readiness assessment has been completed. Also, it is essential to engage with an expert 3rd party VDI provider, with proven credentials, to help you successfully navigate these challenges.

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Jon Leary is CSA Waverley’s sales consultant, covering new and existing business in the South and East of England. Jon looks after CSA Waverley customers by helping them develop their IT Infrastructure to cope with the ever changing demands of their organisation – as well as growing CSA Waverley’s new business. Jon has extensive public sector sales experience and a high degree of technical hardware and network expertise.

  • Green really isn’t an argument for VDI since it generally requires large investments in server, storage, and thin clients in order to implement. Since the majority of a PC’s carbon footprint happens before it gets to the desk, this is a false economy. Management benefits etc are real values but financially VDI is difficult to justify because of the amount of infrastructure it really requires in order to function.

    This said, virtualising the desktop is possible without having to replace the desktops and laptops (don’t forget that generally VDI doesn’t cover your laptops). This is through the use of client-side hypervisors to virtualise on the desktop itself. Many of the benefits of VDI are in that implementation plus the added benefits of using existing kit and also being able to handle mobile users and associated data backup and encryption requirements. Take a look at http://www.marxtar.co.uk for a VDI solution that doesn’t carry the infrastructure burden.