Virtual Desktops (VDI) can be a fantastic business enabler and productivity enhancement, but VDI is not a fit for every business or every situation. The question is, does it make sense for you.
With Virtual Desktops, work is no longer a place, work can happen anywhere it makes sense for an employee to be.
VDI Primer (skip this if you already know what Virtual Desktops (VDI) actually are).
The computer or laptop you use every day is likely a physical computer. You can touch it, turn it on, turn it off or chunk it out the window if so desired. Now imagine we take that computer and move it into the datacenter and put really long keyboard, mouse and monitor cables on it so they can still sit on your desk and use that computer. Now stack 50 or more computers on top of that one and stretch cables all over the office so everyone has monitors, keyboards and mice and we are just about there.
Obviously we are not stacking actual desktop computers up in the data center, but that is essentially what we are doing with Virtual Desktop technology. We take 50+ physical computers and build a virtual version of each one of them into a server. Want to know more about VDI? Read VDI in Plain English.
Why would anyone want to move desktops to the datacenter or do desktop virtualization (VDI)?
While desktops are fairly inexpensive to buy ($400-$800 on average), managing and maintaining them is far more expensive. According to Gartner, a PC can be as much as $2,500 annually to support by the time we calculate the cost of monthly patching, managing anti-virus software, handling application updates, and going to the end users’ desk to resolve issues.
Multiply that cost by all of the desktop and laptops in the business (the average US business has 20 employees $2,500 x 20 = $50,000 a year for PC support) and you can start to see why businesses would look for more cost effective ways of supporting end user’s computing needs.
Virtual Desktops can in many cases all be patched, managed, upgraded and supported as one unit. An IT person does not have to touch 20 individual computers, they can work on all of the virtual desktops at once.
In some cases the support savings is negligible between physical PCs and Virtual Desktops (VDI), but Virtual Desktops provide some functionality that physical computers will never be able to provide that might make the technology make sense for your business.
- If company employees are not in a single office or are scattered all over the country or world, Virtual Desktops (VDI) might make sense. The more locations you have or the fewer employees per location the more VDI makes sense.
It does not make sense to hire one IT guy per office when the office only has a few people working there. The salary of the IT person makes this cost prohibitive. Keeping operational costs low at each branch is a priority. Virtual Desktops are centrally managed out of one datacenter, so IT staffing is kept to a minimum. Patching, maintenance, and application upgrades happen at the data center, eliminating the need to put an IT tech in a car driving around to each location fixing PCs.
If the physical computer at the branch location dies, a spare computer (or thin client) maintained on a shelf at the branch location can be exchanged for the broken one allowing work to continue in the amount of time it takes to make the exchange and boot the new device. The old computer can be shipped back to HQ for repair.
- Data security is enhanced when all of the data is centralized and protected in the data center instead of residing on desktop and laptop computers scattered around the office, country or world. Employees can work with the data anywhere, but the data itself never leaves the corporate datacenter.
- Bring Your Own Device. Computers cost money, a lot of computers cost a lot of money. Organizations looking to save capital or allow end users to select their own devices to improve their own workflow and productivity may elect to allow end users to show up to work with whatever compute device they want. Virtual desktops (VDI) makes this possible as the technology will work with any endpoint.
- Business hindered by legacy applications. Key applications can have IT requirements that are in conflict with one another requiring two different browser versions, java versions, Windows versions, etc. Virtual Desktops allow troublesome legacy applications to work together in a single desktop in a way that is not possible on a single physical PC.
- Disaster recovery/business continuity. When work can happen anywhere there is a PC instead of at the office, at your desk, in front of one computer your ability to respond to a disaster or business outage becomes much more flexible. Virtual Desktop (VDI) environments can be flexible enough to eliminate location as a concern.
- With Virtual Desktops (VDI), end users can work from anywhere they have internet access and have any kind of computing device (smart phone, tablet, PC, Mac, thin client, etc.). For companies that have employees that need to work from multiple locations, virtual desktops can make sense.
Insurance Inspector: Works at his desk at the office, but also writes new policies in the field, spends time in the field as an inspector, or part of the disaster response team with a tablet connected to 4G wireless access, taking pictures and taking notes on what he sees. The same Virtual Desktop he was using at the office follows him on his tablet in the field.
Bank Teller/Personal Banker: Banker works at Branch A most days, but fills in at Branch B from time to time. In this scenario, the Bankers Virtual Desktop would follow him around, no matter where he logs in from.
Healthcare Nurse/Physician: Nurse or Physician moving from room to room, logging into a different computer in each room to take care of patients with their own desktop following them with each tap or login.
School Computer Lab: Labs can present challenges to high schools, colleges and universities. Computers are built with a single image to support one subject instead of being versatile and able to change to any application for any class to handle the changing needs of students and Administration. Virtual Desktops allow any application to be available in any lab at any time with the ability to change as fast as students change classes. This leads to better utilization of lab rooms and provides computers to meet student needs, regardless of subject.
Retail Chain: Retail chain has 5-10+ staff at each location and needs the simplest, most resilient cost-effective IT environment possible to allow local staff to sell merchandise, restock, handle shipping and receiving, handle opening and closing procedures and nightly deposits. Virtual desktops can handle day to day operations with IT service coming from HQ keeping all locations up and running.
Engineering/Architecture Firm: CAD workstations are expensive and are only available where the workstation resides. CAD applications delivered via Virtual Desktop (VDI) can make resource intensive applications like AutoCAD, Revit, Bentley, etc. available anywhere there is a computer. Work from home, work from the client location, work from the office, productivity does not suffer.
Is VDI for you?
There are many industries that can benefit from Virtual Desktops, but as you can see by the provided examples, VDI is not for everyone. We do Desktop Transformation assessments every year helping companies understand if desktop virtualization makes sense for their business before spending money to make the transition.
When VDI was a new idea several years ago, the infrastructure cost of servers and storage were far more expensive than they are today reducing the number of use cases that made financial sense for VDI. The tools at the time were not as developed, leading to some severe limitations for end users to get all of the support benefits for the IT department.
Today we are able to deliver virtual desktops that perform better than physical PCs in many instances, but not all of them. If you are looking at virtual desktops, talk to a firm that has done hundreds of these types of engagements to understand what you are getting into while this is still in the idea phase.
The magic of VDI is often in the minutia. Your unique workflows may make VDI a slam dunk or a flat out “Don’t do it” just like every other technology you consider for your business.