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The Virtual Revolution...

Early signs for 2011 are of a recovering economy, however cost cutting for many and cost containment for all are still very firmly driving our strategic thinking in IT terms…. It does feel cautiously like the worst is over, certainly in the private sector, however, there’s probably still some way to go for the public sector and central government departments.

IT enabled service delivery is currently undergoing a period of huge transformational change – but this shouldn’t just be about renegotiating contracts and shuffling the pack of suppliers. Effective technology deployment is about automating as much as possible to identify new ways of doing things – consequently, we have seen a rapid acceleration of the adoption of virtualisation and cloud technologies…

Couple this with the next big trend which focuses on Workforce flexibility – through which businesses across all sectors are seeing increasing benefits from empowering remote or mobile workers. The ubiquity of mobile technologies has enabled businesses to create fully connected people who have – and need – access to the right information at the right time from anywhere… and this includes access to the corporate resources – applications, documents, email, hardware and other devices as required…

Organisations everywhere are struggling to balance ever increasing technology complexity against ever decreasing budgets. Employees expect, and often need to work from anywhere, from any device. In our “always on” society it is very common now for employees to use personal devices such as smartphones, netbooks, tablets and home computers as part of their work arsenal – and this convergence of consumer technology and consumer behaviours with the corporate environment add to the complexity.

Many consumer devices are now sold with enterprise features such as the built-in support for Exchange and Remote Desktop sessions in consumer orientated net-book devices and smart-phones such as the new generation of Android and Apple smart-phones and tablet and iPad devices.

So how do you provide a consistent, standardised desktop experience for employees who need to work with multiple different devices, with multiple different form factors, connectivity options, processors and operating systems?

The answer:

Virtualisation…. and the abstraction of the desktop from any one physical device. Logically, as everything becomes Internet-enabled, the cloud comes into play and becomes a more convenient place to host these services ….. once the inevitable security concerns have been highlighted, understood and addressed).

New challenges

The large proportion of businesses are wrestling with this issue… Too many at the top end of the user food chain have tried VMware and Citrix for VDI and have become disillusioned not least because of the levels of investment required and the complexity, or because the solutions thus far failed to deliver the range of functionality required by businesses for VDI to be deemed a success. While their approach may work for storage and server virtualisation the desktop presents very different challenges which should be addressed in a different way.

Desktop virtualisation is not about building the ‘highest spec desktops’, capable of working with every USB, serial or parallel device known to man, it is about finding the lowest common denominator or ‘base-build’ and applying it where appropriate in the organisation, then making incremental improvements in frequently repeating ‘ITIL or even Agile-like’ iterations.

The Reality

Starting out with a project of 100% coverage of the “highest specicification desktops” is not only going to cost you your sanity, but it could also cost you £1,500 per PC if you build each virtual desktop out of high-end server components, high-end storage arrays and high-end networking components and the premium versions of vendors virtualisation products.

Why would an organisation spend £1,500 on a 1:1 high-end VDI solution (one user per OS install) that supports plug-and-play USB headsets, when a headset with a traditional headphone socket could use a standard “Terminal Services” solution that could support a user ratio of 150:1 or more (one hundred and fifty users per OS install). Or why not just stick with a conventional £500 PC?

The reality is that leading edge technology implementations often look better on CV's than they do on the balance sheet. The irony is that the organisations and IT Directors’ who have the best chance of surviving the downturn, are likely to be the ones who take a more pragmatic approach to the virtual desktop, instead of trying to spend their way through it.

Virtualising and centralising

The reality for most organisations is a desktop and application transformation that simply lifts the computing environment away from the device. Virtualising and centralising needs to be at the heart of any IT strategy, allowing the organisation to deliver software and desktops as a service.

Why would an organisation want to virtualise the desktop? There are many different reasons, and here’s a snapshot of the most common business benefits realised:

  • Improving the desktop experience
  • Improving application compatibility
  • Improving data security and governance
  • Improving service scalability and reliability
  • Managing software and hardware upgrades
  • Managing ever decreasing budgets
  • Reducing complexity
  • Reducing Capital Expenditure
  • Reducing Operational Expenditure
  • Reducing the amount of time spent managing desktops
  • Enabling an improved flexible working solution
  • Enabling an improved disaster recovery solution
  • Enabling Green IT and responsible low-carbon computing

The old saying goes, “If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is”. We have all become de-sensitised to the “next best thing” and the “deal of the century”, but VDI does offer some genuinely compelling benefits.

The Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, this is on the radar of most CIO’s and IT Director’s and has to be one of the hottest topics around at the moment. However, most of the evidence including the pulse point of the room at the NCC’s recent conference – Maintaining Service Levels with Reduced Budgets, November 2010… the reality is that less than 10% of corporate enterprises have virtualised their desktop environment.

So if the economic climate is tough and cost savings paramount, the technology mature enough, just what are the issues inhibiting VDI adoption?

Guidelines 341: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure



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