What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

Summary: Web-based desktops. A concept so dirty that it has to be associated with The Cloud. It's even dirtier to think that you can save a lot of money by embracing that concept.

TOPICS: Hardware, Browser

The myGoya Online PC

The myGoya Online PC

Nothing. And, that would be the end of the story except that I really feel the need to convince you that there's nothing more economical than a web-based desktop. Since a lot of you are trying to save money these days (and who isn't?), you might want to take notice and not toss the idea before you have a chance to investigate it logically instead of reacting to it emotionally. Web-based desktops aren't a particularly new concept but their realistic adoption as a desktop alternative is relatively new. Web-based desktops have arrived and it's time to take a look at the economics of the decision to move to them.

If you haven't done so, you should go back in time a few days and read Glide OS: An evolutionary leap into web-based desktops.

Note: If you're a CIO or CTO, before you read the rest of this article, pull up your annual desktop computer support spreadsheet and take a good look at the numbers. Pay particular attention to a few of the column header labels: Operating systems, FTEs, Software, Hardware.

VDI = Cloud-based Desktops in Transition

If you're about to embark on a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) project of any size (300+ desktops), or already have embarked, you should know that your overall price tag is going to be very high--much higher than traditional desktops from every aspect and angle of that spreadsheet that you're looking at. Let me clarify that statement. You're going to spend a lot more money on VDI than you would than if you stayed with traditional desktop computing.

Why will you spend more money?

You'll still incur every cost associated with desktop computing plus the cost of the virtual desktop infrastructure to host the virtual desktops.

You can handle the VDI transition in a less expensive way by engaging a VDI provider and using their service. There are a few of them out there now ready to serve you. For a few dollars per month, you can sign up for a virtual desktop. And, it will be your highly regarded full-blown, fat desktop operating system--probably Windows, if I were to guess. But, even if you use Linux, you're still looking at a fat desktop environment with all of the same shortcomings as your current one. It might be virtual but that's the only difference.

You'll still need to manage any software that the provider doesn't give you. Who manages the patching? Does their patch schedule meet your SLAs to your customers? What about anti-virus software? And, what is the turn-around time for fixes on those leased desktops from the provider?

Sure, those things can be resolved but what you have to realize is that managing desktops, virtual or physical, and everything that goes with them is difficult and expensive.

Cloud = Freedom

It's silly but a lot of reasonable and competent IT people truly fear The Cloud. Maybe because it's outside their comfort zone but more probably because they feel a lack of control. Not control in the sense of choosing which data to save to The Cloud or saving that data to more than one location but control as in touchable control. IT people often feel the need to touch a system--to be able to break it themselves--to be able to work at the console--and to have that all-important physical access.

That kind of control is expensive.

I can remember a time when every IT nerd wanted to manage his very own web service, email service, DNS and even Internet News services. And, by manage, I mean that they wanted their very own local, physical server hardware onto which they installed their very own operating system and then manage the services that they installed.

Of course, it only took a few hacks and blacklistings to halt that desire. Most found that it is more economical to use service providers for email and web. And, to let them worry about DNS and the hundreds of gigabytes of porn associated with Internet News services.

Besides fear and control, what else makes the cloud so distasteful? Maybe those people don't understand what Cloud means.

The Cloud is defined as a bunch of computers, running hypervisors and virtual machines, that has three basic characteristics: Elasticity, On-demand Services and Fully-managed Services.

Maybe somewhere in that definition there's a goblin lurking that's just waiting either to destroy, to devour or to steal your most valued data. How can Cloud anything be negative? I see the problem now. It's not with the elastic nature or the on-demand capability. It's that fully-managed thing isn't it? There's that nasty control issue popping up again.

Well, control and trust.

Because not only must you have complete local access and control but you also don't trust anyone else's competence but your own.

I'd trust your competence, as a Cloud Hater, a lot more if:

  1. All of your computers were fully assembled, which means the cases have to be on them.
  2. All of your computers worked flawlessly.
  3. You'd never had a virus or malware infection of any kind.
  4. You really understood The Cloud.

For years, we IT people have been deprived of sleep, disparaged by our co-workers as weirdos and disliked by management because of our iron grip on the organizations that we support. The Cloud, my friends, is freedom. Freedom to innovate. Freedom to control that which need to be controlled. Freedom to sleep during the night. And, freedom to release your fears of the sinister Cloud.

Desktop systems can live in The Cloud without issue. And, don't bring up connectivity as your argument, I've heard it before and it still doesn't phase me. You know why? When your Internet connection is down, you don't do any work anyway. You walk around asking everyone if "They can get on the Internet." And, then you go for a smoke, a Coke or a walk. You feel duty bound to prove to the management that you absolutely cannot work without Internet access.

So, you don't work now when your access is gone, and you won't work if you have a cloud-based desktop--what's the difference?

Connectivity isn't that poor. If it is, you have bigger problems, like needing to fix that.

Desktops in The Cloud? Why not? It makes more sense financially than any other option.

Cloud = $avings

Yes, The Cloud offers cost savings over traditional desktop computing or VDI. And, web-based desktops that are cloud-hosted make the most sense of all. If you don't believe web-based desktops make financial sense, keep reading.

Web-based desktops are web applications. There's no operating system supporting the desktop. It is a series of web pages, controls and applications that create the illusion of a desktop operating system.

There's no VDI involved. There's no expensive infrastructure to purchase nor is there any to lease. There's no virtual machine density to discuss. And, there's no need for anything but a browser on the user's end. That means that each user could have a simple tablet or diskless workstation that connects them to their online computer.

You won't catch any viruses with a web-based desktop. No performance hit while your antivirus software scans a file. You'll never hear anyone say, "Wait while my system boots up." You won't have to deal with illegal or pirated software because there's nowhere to install it and it wouldn't work if you could. You can still print to local printers, in the rare case that you would need to.

Users will never be stranded because their computer is broken because anything with a web browser will get them to where they need to be.

If you need applications that the provider doesn't give you, use your Citrix or 2X application servers to provide them.

Everyone looks for economies of scale, when scale means bigger and more. You should be looking at economies of scale that mean less as in less money flowing out of your hands. Web-based desktops will do that for you.

So, have a look back at that spreadsheet again and you tell me how much you can save by moving to web-based desktops. And, then write me a check for one-tenth the amount you save. If enough companies do that, I can retire early.

Topics: Hardware, Browser


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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  • I am going ot bring up connectivity...

    ...because I disagree with what you say happens when connectivity is lost in the office, and also because it goes beyond office connectivity.

    First, at least in my office, people DO work when connectivity is lost. Usually it's a router, DNS or content management issue that causes the disruption, but it rarely affects access to internal resources, so people still have access to their data on servers and can continue to work, even if they can't go outside the building. Of course that wouldn't be possible if they all had cloud desktops.

    Second, there are environments that require specialty systems that need their own configuration and that aren't going to be able to run off a cloud environment (special software, hardware, etc.). In my company, that is not a trivial number, so there would still be a substantial need for traditional desktops.

    There are also performance issues. On a good day, even a dedicated WAN link is not going to be as fast as a LAN, so if large amounts of data are being manipulated, cloud computing does not provide sufficient performance.

    On top of that, users with laptops are frequently working in locations without wireless signals, and wifi has its own security concerns when working remote.

    Factoring in all those issues, it seems to me that web-based desktops work in limited situations until connectivity is more sold and higher-performing.
    • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?


      If your connectivity goes down so often that it's an issue, then you should get that fixed. I'm not sure what software you're using that can't go virtual with Citrix or 2X. That said, in the short term, there will be users that require local desktop operating systems. Not many but a few.
      • Your economics are based entirely on a function infrastructure

        from the computer terminal, back to the server your data is sitting on, which companies like Google and RIM have proven to be unreliable.

        You also claim that [i]When your Internet connection is down, you don???t do any work anyway. You walk around asking everyone if ???They can get on the Internet"[/i] which is untrue as a small percentage of work is done involving the internet.

        As you can see, your analysis only works in a "24/7" perfect world, which you do not presently live in.

        Tim Cook
      • *sigh*

        @khess you are writing the same ode to cloud article again and again, dismissing any criticism. Outside of the US, affordable connectivity *is* an issue. You also do not consider Big Data needs. If I need real time data from a shop floor system, going to the cloud and back to my shop floor system is not viable. Yes, there are many people fully aware of the pros and cons of cloud. I have managed both. Each has its challenges, neither is perfect.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

        @khess I wasn't saying it happened often, just that when it does go down, people don't stop working, as you've described.

        Plus, it's not a matter of up or down, there are stages in between, where a DNS issue crops up, or a router has an issue, or a switch to a given area of the building has a problem, etc. They only happen a few times a year, but it becomes a bigger problem when that's the only way to have functional systems.

        The types of systems I'm referring to that need special configurations are systems like manufacturing and lab instrumentation, which need to be connected directly to the equipment they control, sometimes using interface boards inside the PC. We have almost as many of those as we have regular desktop PCs.

        And there's still the issue of performance, even when there isn't a problem. We have been looking to simply move all of our file and print servers to a centralized location, and we've found the performance across a DS3 to be too slow -- even with WAN accelerators -- for the required data access and manipulation.

        On top of that, most of the users in our office have laptops, and they frequently need to use them when they don't have a reliable signal (I live in a major Southern California city, and Verizon and AT&T are both pretty inconsistent around town). Again, when the overall functionality requires having a signal, the environment just doesn't seem solid enough to be dependent on that yet.

        So there's more to it than just connectivity or not, it's about the big picture, finding the best way to meet all the requirements.
      • Dude, you are beyond clueless

        @khess The fact that you can't understand that even 10 mins of down time can cost $$ MILLIONS in loses shows that you have never worked in a "real" environment.
      • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

        @khess When the internet goes down, productivity can actually increase, as there is less distraction - unless your work is on the Internet...

        Our company switched to Terminals years ago, with central Linux and Windows Terminal servers. We have more and more users going back to PCs, because they need special software, which isn't compatible with a TS environment or is unusable over a remote desktop protocol, let alone going out over the Internet.

        I am currently burning a bunch of DVDs, having edited the HD source material together, then I need to go through the 16GB of RAW camera images, which I need to retouch and crop, before including them in documentation. Uploading the images to my PC takes a couple of minutes, the images are then synced in the background to the servers.

        Given our internet connection, 10MB synchronous, with 40 employees sharing it, getting those 16GB of images loaded onto a web service would take a while, before I could continue working - and I don't know of many web services, which allow live editing and retouching of RAW images or 1080p video, let alone storing hundreds of gigabytes of images economically...
  • If I could, I'd switch out my Datacenter for the cloud

    But HIPAA makes me pull back and say no. The Federal penalties for leaked 'Protected Health Information' have been updated to include liabilities for neglect by IT employees.

    I am an IT Manager for a Health Care concern.

    So, I'd just as soon not wear an orange suite and live in a cell next to a guy named 'Bubba'.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
  • The simplicity of fundamental analysis

    Let assess the situation as if we were the IT manager at a medium sized business of any kind.<br><br>Situation A:<br>Employees have their own desktops on which they run their local software with which they do work. Lets see how many points of potential failure there are.<br><br>1, The hardware<br>2, The software<br>3, The network<br><br><br>Situation B:<br>Employees all have their own eco desktop on which they have a browser through which they access everything needed to do work. The points of potential failure are:<br><br>1, The hardware <br>2, The hardware at the remote location which we don't have control over<br>3, The software needed to gain access to remote data<br>4, The software at the remote location which we have no control over<br>5, The network<br>6, The network at the remote location which we have no control over<br>7, The Internet connection<br><br>Now why on earth would any sane IT pro switch to that warm and fuzzy "cloud" when you simply more then double your potential points of failure AND give away control?<br><br>Not to mention the other limitations such as those mentioned in other comments.<br><br>
  • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

    Its amazing that these people writing for ZDNet are allowed to continue writing for them; I might try to get my 13 yr old son a job there :).

    Seriously, the virtual desktop paradigm has been around sense, oh 1995 if memory serves, and maybe before that and it always falls flat on its face.

    Despite connection issues, there private data issues. Who wants their personal data or their companies data on some LAN somewhere else where they don't have control of who sees it? I don't use Facebook or Twitter just for such reasons... I host my own server and software so I can share my information with whom ever I want to.... Just like businesses all over the world...

    Sigh!!! this will die down, as it has for over 20 years and we will all be in the same, safe environment we have always been in...
  • cloud = tyranny

    You are truly mistaken my friend, don't be lead into tyranny because of money and convenience. The cloud will be the death of computing and computing liberties.

    The cloud will usher in several anti computing liberties. First the ability to install whatever you want. Rest assured if the OS rest on their systems/server somewhere they WILL dictate what you can and can not install/use on your system.

    Also answer me this, how do you try out other operating systems without a hard drive to install it to? Don't think for a moment that the "terminal" type cloud computing device you purchased will allow you to use their hardware on someone elses cloud service.

    In other words you will not be able to use a google cloud device you bought with a MS cloud service if you decide to switch platforms. So you'll have to buy new hardware. Just another vendor lock in scheme. And good luck getting everything transfer and working from one cloud to another.

    I'm guessing since you think the cloud is so great and equally freedom which is does quite the opposite. You probably think the internet kill switch legislation is a good idea as well. Let us always remember franklin. Those that give up freedom for security will not have either.

    Same goes for cloud. If you give up computing freedom for cost and convenience you shall have neither. Don't kid yourself into thinking that it will be cost saving for long. If the cloud is a service you WILL eventually have a monthly bill to access your cloud computer on top of your existing internet bill. If your a gamer or media pro chances are you will use more resources and have to pay a premium subscription fee.

    The cloud doesn't offer anymore convenience then a usb drive loaded with your operating system and files doesn't give you. Except the fact that with a usb drive you are in control of your files, you decide what programs what os and what you can and can not do and theres no montly payment. Stick it in any computer and boot from usb and your good. Now image such a system with esata type drive. If they get them down to usb drive size. Take it with you full speed computer.

    Cloud is junk, garbage and has relatively small good uses because all other uses destroys computing liberties. Stay away at all cost if you want to retain any type of computing freedom.

    [b]CLOUD = TYRANNY[/b]
    • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?


      Even without a Hard Drive, there is memory in the local devices. That may be an electronic memory AKA Thumb Drive or 'SD' memory, but it will be there. This has been true of every communication device more complex than an old dial telephone. It will continue to be true. You may not have access to it, but the repair techs will.

      It will probably run Linux. Most sealed devices do.
  • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

    I'm so tired of "journalists" who write articles promoting some new concept or product, which isn't being accepted as well as its promoters hoped, and who have engaged a "journalist" to write a sales puff, thinly disguised as an article, which always seems to have the obligatory insults for anyone who disagrees in the first paragraph or two.

    I'm not reacting to "the cloud" emotionally, I'm using the same logic I use for most things and that logic tells me that "the cloud" is a stupid idea.
    1) it gives far too much power to people who have proven over and again that they can't be trusted
    2) any single point of failure like that presents too much risk
    3) it turns my computer into little more than a TV with a keyboard and mouse
    4) it gives other people control over my data
    5) it might be free at first, but that will soon change, and once I'm dependent upon said cloud provider the charges will start being levied
    6) the connectivity that my computer gives me is one feature of an otherwise quite useful machine - I'll not hand that usefulness away so someone else can charge me for it
    7) no commercial organisation can be trusted - mainly because the legal requirement to act in a way that improves the company will, sooner or later, come into conflict with me and if recent history is anything to go by, customers are getting trampled and steamrollered by an increasingly arrogant business world

    The Cloud - just say "you can have my local machine based Operating System when you pry it from my cold dead fingers".
  • Good arguments, but what are you recommending?

    I'm a fan of cloud computing. I'd be interested to know how many of the dissenters in these comments are still maintaining a local mail server for fear that Google or Microsoft might have a 10-minute outage and make their email inaccessible.

    But I'm trying to find what Ken is recommending. He claims that VDI will cost more than traditional desktops, even if using a VDI provider. His referenced article on Glide OS seems to say it is a good concept, but is not going to catch on for multiple reasons. It seems like Ken is recommending cloud-based desktops as an ideal product that does not yet exist. Did I miss something?
  • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

    I think a fundamental shift is happening as it relates to desktop computing. More and more individuals are carrying multiple devices and expecting to be able to get to their email, apps, documents, etc. from each of these devices. End users want ubiquity of access accross the laptop provided from work, the iPhone they bought themselves, and on occaision their home computer or tablet device. But what I am also finding is that it's not so much the access to the desktop that matters anymore, it's the access to the applications that end users consume on a daily basis. As more and more of these applications become 'mobilized' the need for an actual desktop becomes that much less relevant. <br><br>I heard a story a story recently about a company that had recently rolled out a mobile client for the CRM system. They knew it was a success when they had employees who were sitting at their desks choosing to use the mobile client while sitting in front of their computers. This is how the consumption of applications is changing.<br><br>Sure, the desktop will live in some form or fashion forever, just like I am sure there are those out there that still watch movies with VHS tapes vs. Netflix, but the change is happening now, and cloud based desktops is just one of many steps in that direction.<br><br>I also wrote a blog recently on the topic of "Does the Desktop Really Matter" - <a href="http://networkingexchangeblog.att.com/enterprise-business/does-the-desktop-really-matter/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://networkingexchangeblog.att.com/enterprise-business/does-the-desktop-really-matter/</a>. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.<br><br>Joey Widener<br>AT&T Cloud Services<br><a href="http://neblog.att.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://neblog.att.com</a> | @joeyw
    • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

      @jwidenerga I think some of the things that hold back cloud adoption are the reliability of wireless networks and the cost to access the data. I have AT&T (sorry) and have found the signal quality to be abysmal in many of the areas around where I live (San Diego). It may work fine in one place, and a block over have virtually no signal at all. Calls are constantly dropped between my work an home. I've been sitting in a restaurant and go to look something up on the web, and even though the signal strength shows 4 bars, there's no data connection<br><br>Plus, with caps that most carriers impose, it gets pricey to constantly access data elsewhere, or stream audio or video. <br><br>Address those two areas, and cloud usage would probably grow dramatically.
  • RE: What's more economical than a web-based desktop?

    Uncontrolled competition, and of costs.

    Lack of freedom.

    Security issues beyond your control.

    Same bugs.
  • Firms using Virtual Computer find that their own PCs are more economical

    There are two big challenges here: (1) as some people mentioned above, your desktop would not be accessible if your network connection is down or if you're offline - making it more difficult to use your desktop; (2) there is still cost associated with running the desktop, and the cloud services provider will charge you for it - if the charge is going to be low, then so will the amount of storage and CPU that you get - you get what you pay for.

    I just interviewed a bunch of companies using Virtual Computer NxTop, and they were able to slash PC support and operations costs by over 50% (one of them as much as 75%) - this is because the desktop images are easier to manage when they are virtualized (one-to-many provisioning, patching; shared image management; etc.). But unlike other desktop virtualization solutions, this approach reduces costs by executing the desktops locally on a type-1 client hypervisor, which also increases security through full disk encryption, remote kill, etc.
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