Virtualized desktops enhance user satisfaction

VDI helps companies provide orderly, cost-efficient method of deploying PCs to employees that improves user experience, but managing expectations during migration needed, industry players urge.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor on

User experience and satisfaction are aspects that will likely be enhanced should an enterprise deploy virtualized desktop infrastructure (VDI) within the workplace, say analysts. However the transition from PCs to virtualized desktops needs to be smooth, or organizations may face "user rebellion".

Ian Song, research manager of client devices practice group at IDC Asia-Pacific, pointed out that while virtualized desktops might not match the raw performance of the latest generation of PCs, they do offer a more usable experience than a two-year-old PC.

He said user experience on conventional PCs tend to be poor due, in part, to IT management styles within the company. There are generally two ways the IT department goes about managing desktops--one is to completely lock down the machine, and the other would be to give users local administrator privilege, he noted.

For the first scenario, since IT staff makes the changes on users' devices, this slows down productivity and affects workers' experience. On the other hand, should users have administrator rights on the device, they may unknowingly install software that come with viruses and malware that could end up slowing or crashing the PC, Song said.

Housekeeping tasks such as backup and virus scans are also "notorious" in hogging resources and making PCs crawl, the analyst added.

None of these traditional pitfalls apply to VDI, according to Song. Each time users log in to their virtualized desktops, they get a "fresh" operating system (OS) image loaded up on the thin client that is quick and responsive since there are no harmful programs that could slow down the PC, he explained.

It also reduces unnecessary interaction--and tension--between IT departments and end-users since the latter group now has more autonomy to do what they need within the established parameters. Backup and virus scans are offloaded to a separate virtual machine (VM) so these activities do not take resources away from end-users, he added.

VDI inadvertently improves user experience since it enables ubiquitous access for users on desktops and their mobile devices, the IDC research manager stated.

Scott Stewart, research director at Longhaus, said VDI benefits not only the users but the overall organization. Such deployments are the "low-hanging fruit for many CIOs" as virtualized desktops provide a highly standardized approach to delivering desktops in a more efficient and cost-effective manner, he said.

Enterprises tend to add new servers, databases, and other hardware equipment when new hires join, but inflexible software licensing models complicate such procurements particularly during IT audits, Stewart noted. And companies end up "writing out a big fat check" in license fees to vendors, he added.

VDI can remove these headaches as well as solve the problem of scale and performance, he highlighted.

Drawbacks on performance, costs
Still, VDI implementation is not without its drawbacks. Song noted that virtualized desktops cannot offer a great multimedia or graphical experience if it relies on the CPU instead of a dedicated GPU (graphics processing unit) to render graphics.

Users who are accustomed to the power and flexibility of the PC will most likely express displeasure at the idea of using a low-power endpoint, he said.

Stewart also said the transition from traditional to virtualized desktops can be "very disruptive" from the user's point of view and should not be underestimated. This is especially so if the company had not introduced a standardized approach in managing staff computers previously, he said.

As such, managing users and their expectations during migration is vital to a successful VDI deployment. "Users can be unforgiving when performance becomes a problem," the Longhaus analyst said.

Yaj Malik, Asean area vice president at Citrix, also identified the significance of the trade-off between performance and response time. "A few extra seconds can make the difference between successful user adoption and user rebellion," he said.

Furthermore, if the virtualized desktops do not support external devices with plug-and-play compatibility, the IT department could be burdened with individual users' requests to troubleshoot issues the VDI deployment was originally meant to eliminate in the first place, Malik cautioned.

Not all employees want to participate in a desktop virtualization program either, so IT staff should choose the quickest time-to-value user group to adopt it first and demonstrate the potential of the technology to the whole company, he recommended.

Enterprise adoption to grow
Currently, adoption of on-premise VDI addresses only 15 percent to 18 percent of the total physical desktops among enterprises, according to IDC. Thus, VDI remains a niche product due to the complexity of the underlying technology and high implementation costs that may not yield benefits in the short-term, Song noted.

That said, he predicted virtualized desktops will eventually become more prominent with the introduction of newer and cheaper offerings such as high-performance thin-clients and desktop-as-a-service.

It will also become instrumental for organizations looking to manage IT consumerization and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trends coming into the workplace, the analyst added. The possibility of natural disasters may spur companies to turn to VDI as a form of business continuity strategy too, since it is more agile and recovers more quickly.

Malik added that with more consumer devices entering the enterprise space, VDI has increasingly been viewed as a cure to this problem among business owners.

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