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Why Now Is The Right Time To (Re-)Consider Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

A few weeks ago, we spoke about the Digital Workplace and how it came a long way from being an abstract concept that a lot of companies saw value in, but did not have the technology to support their needs properly, to becoming a reality for a lot of enterprises as they embraced server-hosted virtual desktops.

As organizations are now embarking on their Windows 10 migrations, as well as considering Evergreen IT as a long-term IT goal in order to become more agile, scalable and flexible, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is experiencing a technology-induced revival. It's been a much slower adoption than many analysts expected, but more companies are now virtualizing desktops than ever before!

Gartner expected the hosted virtual desktop market to grow to 76 million users by the end of this year. And it seems the growth is not slowing down anytime soon. Most analysts forecast anywhere from 8.9% CAGR (IDC for the entire VCC market) up to 27% (depending on the analysts' definition of VDI) during the period 2016-2020. 


Today, we want to explore this topic of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) a little bit further and talk about why now is a great time to reconsider investing in it. Before we do that, though, let's have a quick look at how we define the term "Virtual Desktop Infrastructure" and why so many VDI projects fail.

What Is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure?

As with many IT buzzwords, definitions are not always clear, and different people have a different understanding of what the term means. When we talk about VDI, we are using Forrester's definition:

"A desktop-oriented service that hosts complete user desktop environments on remote servers, where each desktop instance runs within a virtual machine on a hypervisor but not on a cloud infrastructure-as-a-service."

In other words, this definition does not include other types of digital workspace delivery systems, such as session-hosted desktops (e.g., Citrix Xenapp), desktops-as-a-service (e.g., Amazon Workspaces) or local virtual desktops (e.g., VMware Fusion).

VDI Solves Major Enterprise IT Pain Points

Most companies who are looking to take their IT landscape into a VDI environment are trying to solve one of these pain points:

Potential Cost Savings

Most companies that consider switching to VDI do so because they are looking to cut cost.

However, organizations have to be careful not to get excited about superficial hardware-related cost savings potential too quickly. Oftentimes, we are tempted to treat potential VDI cost savings as an easy math problem: If I equip my users with a $200 thin client instead of a $800 fat client, I can save over $600 per user that can be invested in storage, VDI licenses, and servers, right?

As Brian Madden said in 2011, unfortunately, it's not that easy. The cost savings for VDI are in the fact that you are "locking down your desktop images, not the fact that you're using VDI."

In the past five years, VDI technology, as well as software license management and Evergreen IT, has improved so significantly in terms of performance and usability that it offers further cost-cutting opportunities beyond locking down desktop images. 

When considering cost savings, you will need to take a wider angle into account, including for example:

  • Savings from reduced operational costs (consolidation of hardware and software, avoided staff hired)
  • Savings from software license consolidation through software lifecycle management
  • Increased operations efficiency (e.g., help desk, admin)
  • Improved user productivity because of better user experience and less PC downtime
  • Better disaster recovery planning due to reduced machine maintenance

A 2013 IDC study of organizations deploying VMware Horizon took a slightly bigger approach — revealing "savings of $665 for each supported user, coming predominantly from lower hardware prices and reduced IT support costs. Improved user productivity and less downtime resulted in additional savings of $381 a year (300% ROI)."

Improved Manageability & Compliance

As enterprise IT budgets and headcounts have largely remained flat for 2016, CIOs are left to figure out how to keep the business running while pursuing innovative projects. 

In addition to managing their Windows 10 migration, most CIOs today are focusing their energy on getting a grip on their badly managed IT landscape. The driver is to discover cost-cutting potential and discourage over-spending due to a lack of ongoing software license management, insufficient security policies resulting in possible downtime or data breaches, and problems with application distribution (e.g., employees install applications without going through the proper channels or IT approvals) — just to name a few.

Higher Security

With improved manageability and better compliance comes improved security, which is the third reason why companies move to virtual desktops. According to the "Battling the Big Hack", only 18% of organizations did not experience cyber security threats or attacks in 2015.

IT professionals' three greatest security concerns (Malware, Ransomware, and Phishing) are directly related to end users’ lack of awareness and vigilance. The top IT security challenges are limited end-user knowledge regarding risks and security (69%) and end-user resistance (57%).

The single most important benefit of VDI is central control of each device. In order to combat security threats, IT teams are most commonly updating hardware/software (76%), enforcing end-user policies (73%), and educating end users (72%), which must be done centrally to be efficient. With VDI, the IT team is in control as all applications are being managed on the back-end, and patches can be deployed swiftly and efficiently, unlike waiting for the next time a physical computer gets switched on.

More Flexibility & Accessibility

Lastly, but certainly not least, the fourth pain point that VDI tackles is device flexibility and accessibility.

As the physical workspace increasingly morphs into a digital workplace, what becomes irrelevant is whether or not the employee works from within or outside the corporate office, or which hardware he or she uses.

  • Easier Roaming: By having the entire desktop virtualized and centrally managed, an employee can log on to any thin-client within the corporate environment and have the same user experience as the personal profile is loading, including all data.
  • Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD): Regardless of the device type, companies can use VDI to allow employees to access a safe and controlled virtually-hosted desktop environment in which they can work productively. 
  • Digital Workplace: By providing employees with thin-clients that basically serve as devices for accessing the virtualized desktop (e.g., keyboard, monitor), remote and on-the-road employees don't have to worry about accessing their corporate profile. 

However, within the BYOD topic are now new issues to consider as employees might want to use their new iPhone to check their work email and so on. 

Why Do Most VDI Projects Fail?

Despite the compelling case in 2016 for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure adoption, there are still a large number of VDI projects that fail. There are many different reasons for that — for example, storage issues, performance issues, and lack of vision/strategy — but a disproportionate number of projects fails because a too high return on investment (ROI) was promised by software and tech companies looking to close the deal, compared to what was actually achievable. 

Being excited about the potential cost savings and benefits, IT teams rush into implementing the software solutions before putting the right strategy, guardrails and policies in place — not to speak of business change management plans to update corporate processes or encourage employee engagement.

It is only after taking VDI into production that they find out that, for example, putting 80 users on one machine was setting them up for failure all along because — considering their app usage and bandwidth — the infrastructure would only allow for 40-60 users per server.  Finding out that a 50% reduction in user density per box is going to have a large impact on your business case, whilst shoehorning more users onto a maxed out server is only going to result is dissatisfaction from your end users.

Closing Thoughts

We are currently getting a lot of questions regarding VDI and Windows 10. If you are currently planning an enterprise-wide upgrade to Windows 10, piggy-backing a VDI project could potentially lead to significant cost savings. A lot of the same challenges apply and you will have to first figure out the "who, what, where and when"!

Moving towards a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure requires strategic planning, skills and an investment in infrastructure and licenses that might take some years to show a return on investment, but if done right, the benefits could far outweigh the costs. 

This is why many of our customers trust Juriba Dashworks to help build their VDI migration plan, helping accelerate user adoption to the new environment through velocity-driven project command and control.

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