At one point, it seemed as if the adoption of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) was going to continue at an exponential rate and within a few short years, the desktop and laptop computers most office workers were issued would cease to be deployed in the enterprise (at least in their current form). Interestingly, and not surprisingly for those familiar with Garter’s “Hype Cycle,” the newness wore off, adopters faced technical and organizational challenges they weren’t expecting, and the momentum around VDI decreased.
Despite the fact that VDI hasn’t become ubiquitous to the degree that some advocates expected, it is still being adopted in organizations around the world for its many benefits. One important benefit is the operation agility that the architecture of a VDI deployment delivers.
Modern IT organizations face the daunting task of keeping up with technology as it changes and matures at an exponential rate. Technological advances from manufacturers and vendors that would have taken three years in development a decade ago can be accomplished in a matter of months today. As such, IT leaders are on the lookout for strategies that can make the deployment and management of their IT services more agile.
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Rather than touting the cost savings as they once did, today’s VDI advocates often lead with explaining how a VDI deployment can enable IT organizations to react more quickly, provision resources rapidly, and accelerate the deployment of new applications.
In a VDI environment, the virtual nature of configurations makes adapting to changing requirements substantially easier. Imagine that a new application is deployed across the organization. After the new application is in use across multiple business units, performance complaints start to overburden the helpdesk. As it turns out, the application is poorly coded and requires twice as much RAM as the vendor stated during the POC.
In a deployment with a few hundred physical desktops, this is a BIG problem. Some of the following questions arise: How long will it take to send desktop support personnel around to upgrade RAM in all the machines? What amount of user productivity will be lost due to these upgrades? Can the CPU and motherboard in all of the physical machines support the larger RAM allocation? This is a seriously daunting undertaking, but if the application is critical to the business, there will be no choice.
In a VDI context, however, the RAM upgrades that would be causing executives to lose sleep in the previous scenario are a walk in the park. As soon as IT Operations becomes aware of the problem, they can be sure the virtual desktop host systems have enough additional RAM to support the increase. If that’s not the case, additional RAM can easily be added without downtime. Next, all virtual desktop instances are reconfigured with the appropriate amount of RAM. This could be scripted, tested, and executed in the span of a day. The next morning when employees log in to their desktop instance, their RAM allocation has been increased and the application performs as expected.
Outside of VDI deployments, it’s not uncommon to see an enterprise desktop refresh project that takes months or years to execute. As a matter of fact, at the pace that computing is evolving, there are organizations where the desktop refresh cycle is perpetual; as soon as one round is finished, the next refresh is already getting a late start. There are employees whose full time job is to provision and deploy new desktop resources.
What if the desktop (hardware) refresh cycle could be broken forever? In a VDI setting, refreshes to the physical infrastructure and the VDI control software can be accomplished transparently to end users. Therefore, upgrades don’t impact productivity to the same degree that they used to. To be fair, endpoint devices will still need to replaced and desktop operating systems will need to be upgraded. So it’s not exactly a fairy tale; but it’s reasonable to say that the negative impact to the end-user over time is decreased significantly.
Additionally, rolling out a new round of desktops for a branch office that’s just opening or an acquisition that’s being assimilated is a cakewalk compared to provisioning the same number of physical machines. Assuming that the infrastructure is already in use elsewhere in the organization, gold images are already prepared, and the overall system is functioning as expected, it’s conceivable that a new office with 30 users could be provisioned and ready for use in a couple of hours.
Aside from the benefits when upgrading and provisioning hardware, VDI also offers advantages in operating system and application management. Because of the nature of a virtual desktop, the storage bits that make up what and end user actually sees can be manipulated without the knowledge of the operating system.
Through the wizardry of software like AppVolumes (a VMware product) or another called Unidesk, applications can be deployed or updated in real time. This becomes very intriguing when you consider the possibility at scale. To deploy a new application to hundreds of physical desktops, even with a powerful tool like SCOM, is a substantial undertaking. To deploy the same application with a sandboxing technology like ThinApp will probably turn out to be a nightmare. But to do it with a Tool like AppVolumes is a breeze.
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