Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Offers Risks and Rewards

After years of false starts, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) products are here. They work, and if implemented correctly they can deliver substantial cost savings to enterprise IT shops. What are the risks and rewards involved in embarking on a VDI implementation for your organization?

By Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros
Mon, December 16, 2013

CIO — Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is designed to deliver virtual desktops to client computers over a network from a centralized source. With traditional VDI, you create a master image (reference computer, or core) to use for all clients, then personalize images as needed.

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The process of distributing patches and updates is simplified because you only have to update images, not every physical desktop. Plus, you can push desktops across a variety of platforms and devices, from desktop PCs to thin clients and mobile devices.

VDI offers numerous benefits, mainly in the form of simplified desktop management and fewer hardware purchases. This, in turn, can lead to reduced capital expenditures and operating costs. When implemented properly, some organizations report that VDI reduced the cost of each desktop by up to 40 percent.

[Related: AWS: Our Virtual Desktop Will Succeed Where Others have Stumbled]

Today's VDI products give you the option to extend the life of older client hardware. Legacy computers that ran Windows XP can be transformed into perfectly fine VDI thin clients for employees who don't use CPU- and RAM-intensive applications.

Likewise, administrators spend less time managing physical client computers. Once VDI is implemented, all a client needs is a remote desktop connection to receive the virtual desktop. VDI also offers increased security and easier backups. Administrators can lock down images and prevent users from using external devices. With images and data stored in a server infrastructure, backups may be performed centrally on servers or storage devices rather than from client machines.

Case Study: City of Barcelona Consolidates VDI with Windows Server 2012
More: Companies Take Bold Steps Into Desktop Virtualization

Some organizations adopt VDI to increase flexibility for end users. This doesn't necessarily equate to cost savings. If your shop must react quickly to business changes, such as setting up a branch office or quickly changing locations in the event of an emergency, then rolling out VDI could be a good bet.

VDI Success Requires Adequate Networks, Servers and Storage

As good as VDI sounds, it's not without some pitfalls. How many times have you been on the phone with a customer service rep and you hear, "Sorry, I'm having a problem accessing your records. My computer is slow today"?

[Related: VDI Technology Better, Faster and Cheaper, But Adoption Still Slow]

Key challenges with VDI include network capacity, server capacity and adequate storage. VDI users can't work offline, and they'll be unable to perform their jobs if the network or server is down. IT needs to provide fast network or WAN links to push desktops and data to clients in real time, and its servers must be able to keep up that pace. Some organizations must also add serious storage capacity to house the number of images needed for VDI if users require numerous customized desktops.

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