Is VDI Really an Option?

Is VDI Really an Option?

Summary: Virtual desktop computing is a controversial and emotional topic. There's the fear of change, fear of the Cloud and fear of loss of control. But, VDI really is a valid option.


Debian 6 Desktop Running as a Virtual Desktop

Debian 6 Desktop Running as a Virtual Desktop

For those of you who've followed along on my virtualization posts, you've noticed that I'm a fan of certain types of virtual desktop infrastructure implementations. This was not always the case. In fact, if you Google my name and VDI, you'll find that for most of the past three years, I've come out strongly against it. So, you're probably asking, "Why the change of heart?" The answer is simple, it's a matter of timing and technology. VDI really was not an option before but it is now.

In 2008, when I attended VMworld 2008 in Las Vegas, VDI was one of the big new things on everyone's lips. It was "The Year of the Virtual Desktop" or some such nonsense. What I found was that though everyone buzzed about VDI, you couldn't extract a straight answer out of the people touting its greatness.

I scoffed in their general direction.

I wrote several nastygrams about it at Linux Magazine and Daniweb and some people weren't so happy with my assessments. However, those people probably spent far too much money, reaped minimal results and went back to the drawing board (and heavy physical desktops) with their ill-fated desktop virtualization plans.

It's time to look at VDI again in a serious and more practical way.

I'm not saying that you should immediately convert your company's 50,000 desktops (or 5,000 or even 500) to the Cloud, although some cloud vendors say that you could. I'm suggesting that you convert a few dozen as a test. You can convert two or three users per department or job code to virtual desktops and check on their productivity, complaints and problems over a 30 day trial period.

This test will provide feedback about how well your employees work with virtual desktops in each area of your business. Some departments will prove easy to convert, others will be difficult due to user issues, a few will have correctable technical difficulties and a very small percentage will not be able to make the switch. That very small percentage will have to hold off until technology catches up to their needs.

That small percentage includes those who work with large media files and who require intensive disk I/O for their work. Unless you run a media company, the number of users who encounter such technical issues is very small.

That said, you'll find that the migration from physical to virtual isn't so easy from a change perspective. People generally don't like change. Using virtual desktops requires change. Managers and technical people need to be sympathetic to those and provide training to those who find it more difficult to make the transition.

There's nothing inherently wrong with virtual desktops. Some users will deal with the transition easier than others. Mobile sales people would probably embrace the change with ease, while those who have to connect multiple peripherals to their computers will be more difficult or impossible to transition.

Is VDI really an option? Yes.

Is it an option for everyone? No.

Is it the future of desktop computing? For 90 percent of us, yes. For the other ten percent, it's a little further into the future.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Cloud, Storage, Virtualization


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • 90% number is a little high

    VDI is merely one item on the menu to solve problems, as is application streaming solutions like Citrix and Microsoft offer.

    Will 90% use VDI? Sure, once electrical and network reliability improves for the majority of the people outside of the US and VDI solves something that an actual desktop or other solutions do not.

    Quite frankly, you will see reliable app streaming adoption grow faster than VDI. Everybody is rolling out an "app store".

    But a VDI solution, unless it is connected to the middle tier and backend systems that it needs more reliabily than a conventional solution will remain a niche for the forseeable future.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Is VDI Really an Option?


      I actually think you'll find that businesses will begin migrating desktops this fall. A lot of people are considering the move now.
      • What happens this fall?

        @khess Anything special happening this fall to warrant the rosy uptick? I am not saying not to engage VDI solutions. I am stating that the judicious application of VDI is predicated on a certain set of conditions.
        Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Is VDI Really an Option?

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  • Not in my world

    After watching both our global network suppliers fail us repeatedly over the last year, and with security concerns growing by the day, I would say that VDI and cloudsourcing are even farther away this year than they were last year.
    terry flores
    • RE: Is VDI Really an Option?

      @terry flores

      Tell me more about your global network suppliers failing you. Please email me with details, if you don't want to post here.
  • RE: Is VDI Really an Option?

    While LAN-based clouds (internally managed) are certainly an option, WAN/Internet-based clouds remain a dream until gigabit+ networking becomes a reality for the majority. The current bandwidth limitations, contention, data caps, and intentional throttling prohibit cloud-based computing from becoming reality.
    Mace Moneta
  • VDI will fail - too hard to support.

    It would split the organisation between "done and working" and "exceptions". Those exceptions will be very numerous and will include personalities (including Chiefs) who simply aren't willing to go VDI and put up every kind of resistance and objection. I don't really see how uniformity and cost-savings can be achieved? What VDI needs is some hugely tempting advantage that full-fat systems can't provide.
    • RE: Is VDI Really an Option?


      Well, I see your point but almost no organization is homogeneous or uniform. Think of your own. Does everyone have the exact same operating system, equipment or software? You probably have systems that don't have the same patch levels or AV updates. It's very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve 100% uniformity across a large number of users.
      And, any organization's leaders who want to move toward VDI will convert first to show everyone that they are taking the lead in the effort. If the leaders don't convert, they can't expect the rest of the company to follow, IMHO.
  • VDI is New Marketing Buzz for Thin Client

    It's the client server relationship and it hasn't changed, its just morphed. VDI takes many different forms, and is a buzzword after all. VDI in the sense of having a separate virtual session for every device on a server (or farm), seems a little thick IMO. Most people paying for expensive VDI setups could be accomplishing the same thing significantly cheaper.

    Check out they founded the LTSP project. You can run LAN based "VDI" for free. If you want to add WAN support, mix in a solution like NoMachine's NX. Now that's VDI done the right way.
  • Why now?

    Interesting post on your change of heart. Why do you feel so strongly positive about VDI now? Why should it be such a desirable option? I agree that there are drivers for the change (such as standardized desktop configurations and some cost savings) but I'm not understanding the sense of urgency I got from your post.

    I decided to wonder aloud here: , but would be delighted to see a follow-up post on your viewpoint sometime.
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