Imagine: A pool of servers runs in your datacenter, on which virtual desktops are hosted. Users can access these virtual desktops from any device or location and all processing is done on the host server. It is a technology that has lasted for more than 2 decades and has only gotten better during that time.
Every year, #VDILIKEAPRO (an initiative of Ruben Spruijt, Christiaan Brinkhoff and Mark Plettenberg) organizes a worldwide survey for and by the entire VDI community. The latest edition of that research shows that the main driving forces for using a Virtual Desktop infrastructure are:
- Centralized Management
- Provide a remote application solution
- Increased security
- Cost Reduction
- Support access to specific (legacy) applications
- Support Off-Shoring / Remote locations / Branch Offices
- Support Flexworking
- Support Power Users
- Lower Energy Consumption
I was guided by these topics, to explain in more detail the biggest advantages of VDI.
With Virtual Desktops, all your PCs are running in the datacentre, so you always have access to them, a user laptop often runs away from your network, during which time you lose control of them. Updating security patches or installing new software becomes so much easier and faster.
Managing your desktops through a single image (or a limited number of images) can be a time saver, and simplifies things a lot. You worry about updating that one master image, and automatically through the magics of your provisioning mechanism, all of your computers are up to date. Think of it: you wish to rollout a new version of your main business application, and for your users it’s as easy as asking them to re-logon. I have a complete chapter about image management in VDI.
Provide a remote application solution
Users can use any device to connect to their infrastructure, so desktop fixes and new desktops can be up and running in no time. Image that most of your users have thin clients: any broken device can be switched with another random thin client from your environment, the user connects to their backend apps and start working again.
With a proper user profile management tool, it is completely possible to deliver the best user experience. Users can enjoy all the benefits of VDI, without having the feeling that they are working in a blocked environment. Security measures need to be in place, and I urge them to be very strict, but that does not block you from making sure that your users can personalize their remote desktop and keep their settings between sessions. An when that is done properly, the users can access their personalized workspace from any location and any device.
With VDI, all applications and data are completely centralized. This means that OS and software patches are managed and deployed centrally. No need to wait for certain laptops/desktops to connect again to the network. Also, those virtual desktops are all connecting to the outside world (internet) through the same, centrally manged and updated firewalls and proxy servers. On top of that you make sure that users store their data on central file servers or storage solutions, no possibility for your users to “accidently” store data on a local disk. And then there are the strict policies that can be put in place, often depending on connecting location. Like that it is possible to block access to USB storage devices, or block the possibility to copy-paste data out of your datacentre.
With vdi you can drastically reduce the cost of supporting a decentralized environment. Just think of a bank with hundreds of branches worldwide, to be able to easily serve all those small entities with the right software and services can be a very expensive affair. This is drastically saved by using central management with VDI.
You can also save a lot on PC refresh cycles: Users can access their virtual desktops from older devices or thin clients, reducing IT costs for new and expensive hardware.
Optimized use of your hardware resources: Because the processing takes place on the server, the hardware requirements for end devices are much lower.
By improving the application of security policies, you reduce the risk of costly security breaches (think hacking, viruses or ransomware)
Many companies have a home-work policy that allows people to work from home for 1, 2 or more days per week. This, in combination with flex desks, reduces overhead and ensures that companies can use smaller offices and have less costs, for heating / air conditioning and other power consumptions. And it also keeps employees happy because they can pick up the children from school on time and spend less time commuting.
Support access to specific (legacy) applications
Companies invested a lot of money in applications for many years. Some of those applications are difficult to deploy, require a very low latency to the back-end, or were developed by a person/company that is no longer around. A lot of these applications are out there, to continue to support them on new operating systems is difficult to impossible. And you know they exist, users that wish to use their MacBook Pro. Long story short: running a 32-bit windows application on it is impossible, except with virtual apps and desktops. Like this you can extend the life of your (old) applications.
Support Off-Shoring / Branch Offices
People in the headquarter, connected to the LAN, have high speed/low latency access to data and applications. But what about those 10s, 100s or even 1000s of branch offices that need the same level of access? Many business applications become tiresome to work with when on a high-latency WAN connection. With Virtual Desktops, this issue is resolved completely.
These days we have high speed connections at home, more and more planes have Wi-Fi on-board and 5G is around the corner. Since the possibilities of high-speed internet connections everywhere, many managers are no longer looking for their team to sit next to them in the same office. More and more employers want the best people for the job, no matter where they are and when they work. With a desktop virtualization setup such flexibility can be offered.
Most organizations have defined business continuity plans. The success of a business continuity plan is based on how much it impacts the user experience, how well it scales to overcome global issues, and how well it maintains corporate security policies. Imagine the public transport sector on a strike, a natural disaster or a pandemic. Unexpectedly most of your workforce is forced to work from elsewhere. Do you want, at such a time, to start thinking about a solution so your employees can work in an optimal way? No, I believe that’s too late already, this is a time that should represent business as usual as close as possible. A Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, when build well, is made to be accessible from any location, without any loss of productivity. And it’s built to do so securely.
Citrix CEO David Henshall told the Business Journal. “Whether we’re talking about a medical pandemic, extreme weather events, or even changing demographics of the workforce, all these things highlight the need for businesses to think about not just business continuity, but engaging their teams no matter where they are.”
Support Power Users
One of the main troubles with VDI, back in the days, used to be graphic intensive requirements. But those have a perfect solution now. I don’t think there are any devices available anymore without a GPU, even your phone or tablet probably has a very powerful GPU. And so should the virtual desktops for the power-users that work with CAD or other graphic intensive needs.
Lower Energy Consumption
The power consumption on virtual desktops is considerably low. For example, a desktop computer can consume more than 150 watts of electricity compared to a virtual desktop with an electricity consumption of less than 20 watts. This is because in a virtualized world, you don’t only share CPU and memory but also electricity needs. Combine that with thin (or zero) clients and lower electricity consumption is a certainty. This all reduces energy costs – overhead savings for the business and results in a low carbon footprint and emissions, furthering the idea of green IT.