Decision Maker

3 Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Lies You Need To Know

If you want to implement VDI correctly, you need to be able to separate the myths from the facts.

Greg Shields and I have recently been speaking a lot about Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or VDI, as part of our work with ConcentratedTech.com and various conferences around the world. It's a little tough: We stand in a room full of people and explain that, in many cases, VDI just won't do everything their CTO was hoping for -- at least, not yet. But we also offer hope, primarily by dispelling some of the myths about VDI.

Myth 1: Users Care About Desktops
It's a fact: Certain vendors want to sell you VDI because that's all they have to sell you. The bottom line, however, is that users don't care about the desktop. They care about applications. So, you have to view VDI as one possible application-delivery mechanism -- and you have to consider other delivery mechanisms.

One potential alternative is Remote Desktop Services (RDS), formerly known as Terminal Services. RDS isn't sexy, but it's a mature technology. It's extremely inexpensive. It offers the highest user density per host server that you can find. It's easy to use, and it's compatible with a huge array of client endpoint devices.

Anybody can set up an RDS server -- you don't need to hire consultants. And RDS continues to improve with each version: Windows Server 2008 R2, for example, offers a desktop experience option that gives RDS users a familiar Aero interface rather than the traditional stripped-down, utilitarian server UI.

Sure, RDS isn't suitable for every application. But if you're looking at VDI, RDS should be the first thing you consider. If there are specific limitations that prevent you from using it, move on to something more complicated like VMware View -- but start with RDS.

Myth 2: The Hypervisor Matters
VDI consists of an enormous, multi-component stack of technologies that form a complete solution; the hypervisor is the bottom of the stack and is honestly one of the most commoditized pieces, despite the continuing battles between Microsoft and VMware adherents.

Of the major hypervisors available from VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, all are basically the same. Each offers advantages for particular workloads -- Microsoft Hyper-V, for example, currently edges out the competition when running Windows 7 virtual machines (VMs) -- but none of them is exponentially superior to another.

What matters is the rest of the VDI stack -- the tools and utilities you'll use to make VDI a reality. Some of these tools tie to a specific hypervisor, so if you like those tools then your hypervisor decision has been made for you. Other tools -- especially those from companies other than Microsoft and VMware -- are designed to work with multiple hypervisors, offering you the ability to pick the one that runs your particular workload best, or even the opportunity to run multiple hypervisors to optimize for various workloads.

Yes, Virginia, the dream of the homogeneous environment is dead and buried: Embrace "the right tool for the right job," and be prepared to have multiple hypervisors in your environment.

Myth 3: The Back-End Is King
We tech geeks -- and I include myself in this group -- focus too much on stuff like how many VMs we can squeeze onto a box, or what protocol we'll use to deliver a virtual desktop to our users. Users don't care, which means the business doesn't care. Instead, our first goal should be the user experience: How are we going to get our users to their virtual desktops?

Citrix has done perhaps the best job of embracing this so far. Its "front door" Web portal can direct users to a Remote Desktop connection to a Citrix XenApp server, a Microsoft Hyper-V VM or to other endpoints.

In other words, a company's back-end can consist of multiple different technologies, and the Citrix front-end can attach users to each one seamlessly. That's ideal because it lets us mix and match back-end technologies to achieve the best performance, stability, compatibility and so on, while providing a clean, consistent experience to our users.

The Truth: Business Technology
Building a VDI is going to force you into decisions that you'll likely be stuck with for years. Make decisions that focus on business needs, not on technical details. Try to make decisions that offer future flexibility, such as choosing third-party components that are hypervisor-agnostic. Every decision you make that subsequently locks you into another decision is a battle lost; every decision that leaves you open to flexibility and "the right tool for the right job" is a winner. Above all, be very skeptical of what any vendor tells you about its own products and about its competition's products. They're going to tell you whatever makes their product look best, and in the world of business technology, there's no place for that kind of bias.

About the Author

Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.

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