Over the last few years, I have met with many companies in the Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) or Media and Entertainment (M&E) space to discuss the viability of virtual desktops (VDI) for their organizations. Compiling notes from dozens of these conversations, there are some common problems that VDI can help companies in these industries solve.
First, let's answer the most common question I get about VDI when meeting with firms in these industries:
Question: Can VDI deliver a good user experience for team members working with applications like Revit, Civil 3D, AutoCAD Architecture/Mechanical/Electrical, Plant 3D, 3ds Max, Maya, Navisworks, CATIA, Bentley, SolidWorks, SmartPlant 3D, Adobe, Enscape, Unity, Blender, etc.?
Answer: Yes. To deliver the right experience, you will need to identify and size each use case appropriately, select the suitable server processor to address the challenges single-threaded applications can present, and choose the right vGPU card and profile size. Keep in mind that the endpoint that your end-users will be working from should have some GPU offload capability to, among other things, support multi-monitor configurations.
The idea of using a VDI workspace to deliver graphically intensive applications is not a new one. This technology was pioneered by Boeing, working with NVIDIA, to figure out how to split one graphics card among many people. Boeing also worked with Citrix to figure out how to deliver desktops in 2006, wanting to deliver Dassault Systèmes CATIA to 45 different companies, all collaborating on one 2.7-million-part model, which would eventually become the Boeing Dreamliner. Released to the public in 2013, we are on our 4th+ generation of the NVIDIA vGPU technology today.
Yes, peripherals like Wacom tablets or 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator 3D or the SpaceMouse work. Handing someone a $200 Chromebook or the like with zero GPU onboard is not going to give them the best VDI experience. I can say this categorically works because Whitehat is perpetually running proofs of concept on these applications, and many like them, for large and small firms alike, validating their applications, their application versions with their sample data. It typically takes about two weeks to validate and complete the testing with the mix of hardware and NVIDIA cards we have in our data centers.
That said, distilling all the notes we have in our archives, I’ve arrived at the 10 most common reasons that VDI might make sense for an Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Media, or Entertainment company. Being able to deliver a very similar experience to an application running on a local desktop or laptop for end-users plus some of the superpowers VDI has over standard PCs or Macs means:
- 1. The hiring pool for talent gets a lot larger. Firms no longer have to ask remote team members to sacrifice time to moving files or experiencing death-by-1000-mouse-clicks working through something like LogMein. The potential talent pool expands to anyone, anywhere in the world, with good internet access instead of people within 45 minutes of an office or that they can be convinced to move.
- 2. Work can happen faster because the data everyone is working on is all in the same data center. Delays introduced when moving huge files between offices or homes can slow the work completion and limit team members' ability to collaborate on projects. With VDI, all the data stays in the data center, so it’s like their colleagues are just one cube over no matter where they are.
- 3. The firm can be more agile and can take on more diverse projects. With VDI, team members with diverse talents in potentially diverse geographies and time zones can be arranged in an infinite number of ways to address the needs of a given project and quickly reconfigured to address parallel or subsequent projects. Some firms see these savings of negative time between projects and payroll costs as a competitive advantage.
- 4. They are consuming less electricity to complete the same volume of work. As noted in a recent article by NVIDIA and a follow-up article by Lake Flato, the firm we were working with at the time, VDI delivered significant power savings over physical PCs. For Revit, in this case, and real-time rendering application, Enscape, the electricity draw per user was reduced by 66 percent. From a little over 300 watts per PC with an NVIDIA RTX 4000/5000 cards to a 97-watt VDI workstation with fractional use of an NVIDIA A40. Firms wanting to be greener, reduce their carbon footprint, or growing firms finding themselves limited by the power service available to the offices they occupy find this helpful.
- 5. It is easier to stay on schedule because VDI enables firms to be more versatile and agile in where and when work happens. Architects, engineers, designers, and animators are frequently working on expensive projects with tight deadlines. If team members need to be at the office, work from home, work from the job site, or wherever, VDI can accommodate that so team members don't lose productive time working with unavailable or inefficient tools.
- 6. Talent acquisition and retention are easier with the flexibility VDI enables. People are our most expensive resources, but it is the talent within that gets the work done. Real-life issues can temporarily or permanently derail a great employee, making it impractical for them to work in the same way, every day, indefinitely. VDI is a tool helping several firms put unique work models in place to allow team members to manage personal challenges but still contribute to the team and get the work done. Firms with this flexibility tell us this is an effective recruiting and retention tool in a world where many find it more challenging to find and recruit new talent.
- 7. IT Operations costs go down. IT operational costs are perhaps the easiest to speak to as we see this firsthand, managing IT 24/7 for small and large firms alike. The cost of a PC is small compared to the labor that goes into supporting it, patching it, doing upgrades, etc. Gartner states that an unmanaged PC costs $5,000 a year to support factoring in soft numbers, such as opportunity cost from downtime. In common sense terms, it’s much less expensive in time and easier to manage and update 1-3 VDI desktop images or templates vs. managing 30-300 individual computers and laptops that are turned off, at home, in the car, or wherever.
- 8. Firms can protect intellectual property and leverage the global talent pool. Some firms have moved to a diverse global workforce, working two or three shifts per day and 16-24 hours of work completed to a competitor's 8-10 hours of work completed. Being able to keep all their data in their data center and limiting printing or saving to the endpoint, firms can extend work to the talent on the other side of the planet and practice a little salary arbitrage with lower-cost labor without the risk of their intellectual property (IP) loss. The data never leaves their data center. This is an effective way to improve project throughput, protect IP, and leverage lower-cost labor in competitive situations that demand it.
- 9. Data security improves. There is no risk of devices being lost or stolen beyond the cost of the device, as no company data is stored on them. IP and sensitive client data are not at risk if the data is not saved on the endpoint.
- 10. Security hack risk and attack vectors may get smaller. Several inherent elements of VDI can make these environments more challenging to hack and make it easier to mitigate, isolate, and recover from a potentially compromised endpoint. Using GPU-enabled thin clients with a Linux OS, delivering the Windows 10 virtual desktops instead of issuing 30+ physical Windows 10/11 or Mac endpoints, is just one example of how the surface for an attack can be reduced. Being able to isolate and reboot an infected endpoint and have it come back just like a new PC, fresh out of the box, is another. There is a reason those who are most penalized by loss of data – financial services firms and healthcare – have historically been among the largest users of desktop and application virtualization technologies.
Does VDI work for the delivery of graphic-intensive applications? Yes, when appropriately designed. Is it perfect for every application? No. There are some use cases where VDI is not the best fit. For example, with application developers that refuse to support VDI delivery of their applications, these vendors are the exception rather than the rule.
What about Citrix? Is VMware Horizon better than Citrix or vice versa? What about Teradici or half a dozen other vendors in this space?
There is no magic here. At its most basic, what you are paying for from any vendor is the protocol they use to deliver the pixels on the screen and maybe audio to you and send the keyboard and mouse clicks back to the data center for processing. Forget the brand name and look at how the protocol executes its role in delivering the data. Citrix's HDX, VMware's legacy PC-over-IP (PCoIP) licensed from Teradici, their up-and-coming Blast Extreme, or the post-2017 much enhanced PC-over-IP from Teradici are four popular options, but different in their delivery capabilities.
Some of these protocols are more efficient than others, allowing team members to be farther away from the data center before noticing degradation. Some of these protocols support end-users that want to work on a Mac, a Linux, or Windows endpoint. Some only support Windows. We deploy with all of them, and there are pros and cons to each. Just like the truck wars between Ford and Chevy, both get you from point A to point B. But the ride won't necessarily be the same. You need to pick the truck, or protocol, in this case, that matches how you plan to get from A to B.
What about Google Cloud Services? AWS? Azure? For VDI.
While the idea of getting rid of all your IT infrastructure can be appealing, the cost of delivering VDI from a public cloud vendor is typically prohibitively expensive for most use cases. If you go down this road, you need to pay special attention to vGPU, if it is even available. You need to understand the public cloud vendor's oversubscription rate, which is out of your control as a customer unless you acquire full servers instead of leveraging fractional per-machine resources.
I hope you find this has been helpful and answers at least some of the questions you may be considering if you are exploring the benefits of VDI for your organizations. Visit us at www.whitehatvirtual.com for more information.