Revolution or Gastropod race?

By Robin Tapp

Virtual hosted desktops are now available for under £1 a day. They are easier to manage than traditional PCs, more secure, flexible, accessible and can offer, if set up right, improved performance. Additionally virtual hosted desktops can offer a number of indirect business benefits; they support business continuity, reduce the risk of losing assets, data and IP to contractors (and bus drivers!), support hot-desking and can be used to embrace the tidal-wave of consumer technology securely. Industry analysts say there is a revolution coming, Gartner predicts 40% take-up by 2014, so why are corporates still buying PCs? The reason seems to be a mixture of the scale of problem virtual desktops are solving and “newness” risk. The answer may be use the right trigger.

Having used PCs for 25 years, I am now on a hosted virtual desktop and loving it. I am a convert, no doubt about that. The performance, convenience, speed of start-up and the accessibility have dramatically improved the way I work and travel, especially now that I have access from my iPad and iPhone. In the same way as those that have recently given up smoking often show smokers the least tolerance, so I find myself frustrated that many of the corporates haven’t “got it” yet. With a few notable exceptions, the uptake of virtual hosted desktops is painfully slow (2009 estimates were 1% of corporate PCs), despite the hype. The signs are all good, the benefits stack up, there is lots of interest and talk but the appetite for fast and sweeping change on the ground is low (or at least slow).

Virtual hosted desktops are an attractive proposition on paper, for the reasons mentioned above, than “thick client” PCs. So why the apparent hesitation? Surely a high-availability, fully DR PC for under £1 a day is a “no-brainer”? The answer seems to be “yes but…” where the next statement falls into a number of categories:

“Yes but I know I won’t get fired for buying laptops” recognises that a move to hosted virtual desktops is a big change, both technically and from an end-user perspective and the wave is still young. Unless the business is pushing hard for it or there is some other trigger, IT teams see a large-scale transition to hosted virtual desktops as “brave”. Bravery is rarely rewarded in the world of corporate IT and appears particularly undesirable when there are a number of high-risk projects already underway, especially if they are desktop related, such as Windows 7 upgrades. Adding risk is as attractive as adding snow to the UK transport system.

“Yes but we have tried to do this in-house and it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be” can often be a disguised statement of complexity. Virtual desktop infrastructure is complex to implement and even harder to get absolutely right. Getting it even slightly wrong can be expensive and result in poor performance. Some organisations end up believing that this is simply the reality behind the hype, they consign desktop virtualisation to small-scale niche use-cases and so fail to recognise the potential.

“Yes but I have bigger fish to fry right now” may be valid in these difficult economic times, but often misses the full implications of a shift to virtual hosted desktops. The cost of buying and supporting PCs is a relatively tiny fraction of the IT budget, so saving 30% of it is only so interesting. Potential improvements in security and flexibility in ways of working, for example, are often missed when considering the business case.

So is there anything we can learn from those organizations that have successfully moved forward to pilot and even implement hosted virtual desktops? Below is a summary of the advice and lessons that I have gleaned and/or learned from talking to Molten Technology customers and prospects…

Go with a specialist hosted desktop service provider. Virtualisation of desktop infrastructure is a complex, fast-moving area in which deep skills and experience are scarce, few, if any, in-house IT departments or “current incumbents” have really got it sussed. An external service provider should be able to leverage a much better scale cost-saving, offer a better service and simplify / clarify the process much better. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the solution needs to be hosted outside of your network or even your current data-centre estate because the service provider shod be flexible enough to cater for your needs.

Mitigate risk with pilots and targeted roll-out. A hosted virtual desktop solution does not require a large upfront investment from the customer, so try it cheaply at small scale first to see if it meets your end-user and IT expectations. Pick a user group where there will be no cost or negative business impact from trial the and you will find that you have very little to lose. For example, pick a project requiring a number of contractors or third-party users for whom you would normally have purchased laptops, simply give them virtual desktops accessible from their own machines.

Use business triggers. Help with something that your business or IT teams need to do any way and assess how a hosted virtual desktop solution could support that goal, possibly saving costs at the same time. Examples will depend on your particular situation, but common triggers include security drives to keep corporate data inside the network and/or defend against cyber-attack, office-space consolidation projects or office moves, home-working initiatives, outsourcing business process to a third party (especially if they are overseas) or pressure from senior management to enable consumer devices to access the corporate network (yes, even that last one is based directly on a real client).

Look for existing IT projects where hosted virtual desktops reduce the risk. The classic example here right now is the Windows 7 upgrade project, where a hosted virtual desktop solution can not only separate the software and hardware upgrades and provide an immediate reversion route, but also cater for dual-running if there are some apps that are not quite ready Win7-ready yet.

I remain confident that the revolution is coming and the corporate world will get there. As with all major change, take-up is initially slow and then gathers pace. In the meantime I will delight in those that “get it”, help them to get the best possible business results from virtual hosted desktops while waiting for the Gastropoda to catch up.

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About thedaasler

A supplier of Desktops as a Service (DaaS) who gets ever so excited about things cloudy, Ux-ey and involving virtual desktops.
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