VDI: Very Disappointed Indeed

VDI, you have been measured. You have been weighed. And you have been found wanting.

Would you be shocked to see 40,000 horses tied-up outside an automotive manufacturing facility in Michigan? Would you be equally shocked to know that your favorite VDI vendors don’t use their own technology? Before I went to VMWorld 2008, my excitement for VDI was at an all-time high. I anticipated getting there and immersing myself in all sorts of intense VDI-oriented tech discussions, going to technical sessions covering deployment, management, and security issues, and finally hitting the show floor to sniff out products and software to review for you. Though the show was heavily VDI slanted, it left me a little flat in that area. In fact, as you know from my other posts, my excitement waned into disappointment. Why the sudden 180, you ask? I realized that VDI just isn’t practical — and no, this isn’t another rail against VDI in favor of web-based OSs — it’s a genuine analysis of the technology. I think we all know where I stand on that issue but if not, please see The Short Life Expectancy of the Virtualized Desktop.

What I found from speaking to vendors in this space is that,

  1. The RDP and ICA protocols are too slow for large-scale deployment. Introducing more efficient protocols, such as Cisco’s WAAS and Qumranet’s SPICE, give hope to those whose requirements exceed that of RDP and ICA.
  2. Management applications for large-scale VDI don’t exist. Several companies, including VMware, know that VM management is a major problem and they’re working on it.
  3. Vendors admit that, even in best-case scenarios (optimized protocols, Gigabit Ethernet, and high-end (64GB to 128GB RAM, multi-core) servers), that the ratio of simultaneously running virtual desktops per single server is about 50:1. A full desktop experience (sound, graphics, video) for 50 people would still not be possible using our best-case scenario.
  4. Licensing fees remain the same, or are higher, for your desktop OS and applications in a VDI environment and licensing is a tangled web. Licensing Microsoft and virtualization products becomes very complex — are your users using full desktop OSs, Thin Client hardware, Vista or XP? Do you know what a VECD (Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop) License is?
  5. VDI is a new way of operating the Enterprise due to the workload shift from desktop to server and that shift incurs costs. It’s a large task to manage 400 servers but once you add 5,000 or more desktops to that mix, you’ll need to add in the cost of support for the additional hardware and virtual machines, which in turn may save you very little. Remember that, even if you move to Thin Client hardware, someone still has to deploy that hardware to the user.

I’m not in the habit of beating up on any particular technology or solution and I don’t want to give you the impression that I do. Everyone believes the hype about VDI right now and it’s my job to paint a realistic picture of it and what conversion means to you and your company. You also need to be realistic about how much money you’ll have to spend to provide the type of performance that end users currently enjoy with local desktop machines — sluggish desktop performance decreases both productivity and morale.

If you still believe that converting to VDI will save you a stack of cash or that I’m just totally not in touch with this technology, then please do the following and report your results to me:

Call your favorite VDI vendor and ask them to see their virtualized desktops in action. No, you don’t want to see an online demo, a laboratory where everything works because there’s no actual load on the systems or desktops, and you don’t want to see some 50 desktop solution they’ve provided to a client — what you want to see is how they’ve implemented VDI for themselves in their Enterprise. You want to come to their main offices and see VDI in production.

You’d expect that the vendors themselves use VDI for their very own users, right? — just like you’d expect automotive workers to have cars instead of horses because they build those cars and cars are so much better than horses. I think you’ll find the answers you receive will surprise you.

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