Is VDI Really an Option?

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.