Making Desktop Virtualization Work with VDI

Tech Analysis: VDI, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, promises to reduce the effort and cost of enterprise desktop management, but be careful how you implement it.

There is no denying that virtualization is a hot topic in enterprise IT, but when it comes to adoption rates, not all types of virtualization are created equal. While it would be difficult to think of an enterprise that hasn't embraced, or at least piloted, server virtualization, the same cannot be said for desktop virtualization.

The ROI for server virtualization is well understood in terms of server consolidation and better asset utilization, and some of the same benefits can be had through VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure), the form of desktop virtualization that most closely resembles the type of server virtualization enabled by products such as VMware vSphere and Citrix XenServer.

In a VDI scenario, desktop operating systems and applications run on virtual machines located on a server, and users access these machines remotely. Users can run thin clients to access their virtual desktops, or use full-fledged Windows, Linux or Mac hardware regardless of the operating system running on the virtual desktop.

This model allows enterprises to separate the operating system and applications from the hardware, increasing flexibility and mobility, for example by providing a full desktop experience over RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) on a Windows Mobile device.

The use of VDI holds great promise as a way of easing the pain many enterprises feel while administering tens of thousands of physical desktops. You know the pain I'm talking about. Provisioning physical machines, asset management, hardware and software configuration management, operating system and application installation and patching, cleaning up malware, reimaging, the list goes on and on. Industry analysts estimate that these activities cost enterprises anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 per desktop per year. Roughly half of this cost is borne by IT departments and the other half comes in the form of lost user productivity.

VDI centralizes and standardizes distributed desktops on servers in the data center. This has many advantages, such as reducing the cost of physical desktop acquisition and maintenance. Typical business applications, such as some office productivity applications, e-mail and Web browsers, will run just as well in VMs as they would on physical desktops. Consider using thin clients in public places and for shared workstations, for example in kiosks and call centers.

VDI also provides excellent business continuity, as "desktops" are available any time from anywhere. Employees can easily be moved to a remote location or work from home. Standardizing desktop configurations across different platforms and devices minimizes downtime during periods of potential service interruption.

Increased business agility is another advantage of VDI. Flexibility is the name of the game for businesses that want to survive this recession. The ability to provision or relocate a desktop with a single mouse click opens new opportunities for businesses. Users can buy whatever hardware they want and still have access to the applications they need.

As the desktop environment is abstracted from the physical devices on users' desks, management and updates become much less resource-intensive. Estimates indicate that VDI can reduce desktop TCO by anywhere from 15 percent to 35 percent. Who wouldn't want to trim that much off the desktop support budget?