In-Depth

Windows 8: A Big Boost to VDI?

With Windows 8 on the horizon, the possibilities for virtual desktop infrastructure are becoming more attractive.

As professionals, we're increasingly mobile and expect our employers to provide the necessary tools to support this mobility. The introduction of virtualization and virtual desktops enables seamless interaction with the applications necessary to conduct business processes. Now, with the potential move to Windows 8, I believe more companies need to consider the new opportunities that could emerge when relying on virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

Organizations of all shapes and sizes are confronted every day with the challenge of balancing cost and productivity. While many people believe virtualization to be an overly complex offering that only Fortune 1,000 companies can utilize, that perception is not reality. Even for small businesses with little or no IT staff, VDI opportunities are plentiful.

Indeed, this technology makes sense for many organizations in just about every industry. It also makes sense for customers of all sizes -- from the small, growing company to the large, established organization. Careful planning will lead to results. The great thing about this is, if done right, you can change the cost structure of your company forever and free up capital and resources that can be applied to more strategic uses that are central to your business.

Familiarity with virtualization is relatively common in the server world, and I believe the launch of Windows 8 will have a similar effect on accelerating the adoption of desktop virtualization. Newfound confidence in desktop virtualization will sweep away any fear of VDI infrastructures as this powerful technology becomes increasingly standardized.

Enter Hyper-V
Windows 8 provides the ability to use Hyper-V, the Microsoft virtualization technology, via a desktop OS. With Hyper-V, virtualization is now available for mainstream desktop users just as it has been for server-side administrators, who have worked with it for the past several years.

At a basic level, VDI delivers three powerful benefits to any organization:

  • It lowers the total cost of desktop ownership through more-efficient management and provisioning of desktops.
  • It improves security and compliance.
  • It provides organizations with unprecedented agility in responding to user-focused IT needs, such as increased mobility, more productivity and enhanced responsiveness to change.

Due to the rapid pace of technology innovation in the mobile space, smartphones and tablets have become common in the workplace. CIOs and their teams struggle to support these devices, but realize they're in high demand within the end- user community. For example, with VDI, users can have access to the same consistent apps and desktop environments from any device. They can also seamlessly switch between devices at will, because the end-user computer environment is centrally maintained in the datacenter.

Manageability Is Key
The key driver for VDI adoption is manageability, which is where VDI really sets itself apart from the physical OS. The OS (which we all know as Windows 7, Windows XP or Linux) is hosted in a datacenter. From that centralized point, individual desktops or other end-user computing environments are presented to end users on the device of their choice.

There are different models relating to architecture and configuration, including what part of the desktop is delivered and how it's delivered -- applications-only versus entire desktops, shared desktops and so on.

The important point here is that many of the issues that have held back physical environments are minimized in this centralized approach. The ability to centrally manage, secure and back up data in a controlled environment is very powerful, and organizations of all sizes should explore it.

VDI and Mobility
If you think about the current mobility evolution and where we'll be in the next 12 to 18 months, VDI becomes increasingly more important. In the shorter term -- the next six to 12 months -- 4G networks will be prevalent across most of the United States. This means any device or tablet will be enabled with speeds of at least 1MG. This development will allow access to central environments with no performance implications whatsoever on any device. Coupled with the ability to layer on acceleration, many corporate apps, including some multimedia, will run well. These enhancements will spur innovation and help accelerate the move to a centralized and efficiently managed end-user computing environment.

Critical Points
The following points outline my views on VDI manageability:

Patching as an IT administrator, using VDI means I no longer have to deploy monthly patching updates to hundreds, potentially thousands, of machines. That process is time- consuming, and a major headache when working with different patches for multitudes of different machines. Although patches can sometimes cause harm, they're both necessary and inevitable in enterprise computing environments.

As a VDI administrator, I only have to patch a single image as opposed to living out the management and maintenance nightmares that come from dealing with physical OSes. If an issue does arise, all I have to do is roll back in time using one of the myriad available options. This not only saves me time, but it also streamlines the lives of desktop users.

Rolling out a New Desktop OS Gone are the days of unwieldy, time-consuming, desktop-upgrade-related issues. In the past, this was an excruciatingly painful process. Admins would literally have to carry a CD to each and every physical desktop and upgrade it manually. Thankfully, this archaic procedure, which seemingly took forever and required a great deal of manual activity, has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Deploying New Desktop OSes from Specialized Vendors This was problematic if the upgrade went south and required a lot of manual activity. Before making this jump, consider the value in working with an experienced third-party services provider.

Swapping Physical Desktops with New Machines Hardware is expensive, but the associated cost reductions can be significant if new machines are deployed properly. VDI lets companies centrally manage their desktop environments so updates can be managed from a single location and potentially on a single image, rather than trying to manage mobile -- and sometimes global -- sales forces (which are expensive in terms of the required technology and human capital). In addition, capital expenditures are greatly reduced because companies can extend the life of their computers by treating them as thin clients or tablets. With this approach, enterprises aren't required to purchase or lease end-user computers every three years, nor do they have to spend money on the integration and migration from their current devices to new ones.

IT budgets can also be further reduced in areas needed to support traditional desktop or laptop environments, such as help-desk support, anti-spam and antivirus software. With Bring Your Own Device and thin-client technology, VDI administrators such as myself no longer have to provide employees with new computers. Employees can simply use their home PCs or be shipped much cheaper thin clients.

Every virtual vendor has a client that enables connectivity to virtual infrastructures, whether the client is on a home PC or a thin client. Again, because VDI hosts desktop images in datacenters (as opposed to end-user machines), organizations can rest easy knowing that it doesn't matter if a computing device is lost, stolen or even destroyed. VDI reduces the risks inherent in every aspect of the user environment.

Familiarity Breeds Contentment
With VDI, the end-user experience remains familiar -- and this is extremely important. This means virtualized end-user desktops look just like their physical predecessors, and legacy thin-client machines perform just like the desktop PCs with which end users are comfortable. And there's more good news: With VDI, there are no expensive training seminars to host and no increases in tech support issues. End-user satisfaction is increased because employees have greater control over their applications and settings.

Making the jump to Windows 8 will provide a familiar landscape for those already accustomed to the Windows environment, although it does require an extra step for those using Apple or Android devices. However, the associated costs are relatively inexpensive when considering the manifest benefits afforded by Windows 8, including unprecedented flexibility and support for more distributed environments.

Virtualization is becoming entrenched as the new reality for desktop computing. Industry leaders such as Microsoft, VMware Inc. and Citrix Systems Inc. are revolutionizing IT landscapes and freeing enterprises to choose best-of-breed solutions that are tailored to meet their specific needs.

About the Author

Jeff Kaplan is CEO of Breakthrough Technology Group, a cloud, telecom and managed IT consultancy and solutions provider.

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