Molten Technologies believes that Desktop as a Service (DaaS) based on Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) technology can, when done right and wrapped in the right commercial and service model, provide a different and better approach to corporate desktops.
We think VDI and DaaS should be:
We recognise that VDI might only be the right answer for a proportion of your staff and that “One size does not fit all” (see our previous DaaSler article), but it can add a great deal of value where it fits.
In this third of a series of four articles, we will pick-out some high-points of what we think customers of a good VDI or DaaS service should expect in terms of cost effectiveness and how it can save you money.
Reduced “at elbow” support
With a virtual desktop, the end-user is typically either using a thin-client or their own machine, either under an employee Bring Your Own (BYO) scheme or because they are from a third-party using a third-party machine. The fact that a portion of your end-users that previously required a corporate PC are now using their own machines is a bit of a “no-brainer” when considering reduced at-elbow support (you will need to consider the HR and contractual implications of this change; these are typically simplified if it is optional). In addition, thin-clients are simpler devices than PCs; they lack spinning hard-discs and fans, which are among the most common components to fail in a PC. They are also un-personalised, so a user can sit down in front of any thin-client device it doesn’t need to be the one they used the day before. Therefore, thin-clients tend to go wrong less often than PCs and when they do, a user can take another from the stationary cupboard and continue to work almost immediately. While this may have a modest impact in a single big office, the savings across multiple smaller regional locations can be substantial.
Reduced OS and software issues
PC hardware varies and hardware manufacturers like to differentiate their products with useful extra features. The problem is that these differences and features often reduce the stability of the platform. How many times have you closed the lid on a laptop to find that it is set-up to hibernate when you do so? How often does it cleanly recover from hibernation? In my experience, it is all to common for a laptop to fail to recover properly from sleep or hibernation and both the OS and the applications are left in a tangle. With a virtual desktop, the hardware is running in a controlled data-centre environment and the OS and applications are isolated from the hardware by the hypervisor layer. The result is that the user experiences increased stability and reduced glitches, reboots and software issues.
It has been standard practice for many years to build key data-centre systems with resilient hardware so that even if there is an individual component failure, the system remains available. This allows for the replacement of the failed component while the system is still available, so that the resilience is maintained. This sort of architecture is not used for PCs, which typically have any number of components that would cause a system-down if they failed. You should expect virtual desktop infrastructure, whether being provided as a service or in-house, to be fully resilient giving three nines (99.9%) availability, which is substantially more than is achievable with a PC estate (I have seen claims of four nines; this can be done, but it is expensive and only necesary for specific cases). Although virtual desktops still require an endpoint device, thin clients are more reliable than PCs (see Reduced “at elbow” support).
Easier routine patches and upgrades
Most corporate PCs have a standard start-up routine that includes checking that they are connected to the network and then immediately checking for emergency and other patches and scanning for viruses. If they are not connected, they will have to scan without the latest security patches and run without them until they are able to connect. Therefore, at any one time, a traditional PC estate will be in various states of patch, which can make emergency patching very challenging to manage. Virtual desktops need never be disconnected from the network or powered-down, so patches can be implemented and rolled-out consistently across the estate quickly at any time, day or night, and need not disrupt the users. In addition, depending on your technology choices, virtual desktops may offer tools for managing pools of desktops with standard “gold pattern” images which can save substantial time and effort.
Extend life of existing desktop hardware
The refresh of desktop hardware is rarely associated with it ceasing to function and much more commonly aligned with some sort of operating system upgrade (e.g. Windows 7 roll-out) or application upgrade as the old hardware struggles to cope with the demands of the new software. With a virtual desktop, the demands on the local hardware are greatly reduced and there is no need for it to be running the latest operating system; there are even tools available to effectively reduce an old PC to a thin-client, at least from a software perspective. Therefore, a new or upgraded virtual desktop solution can be rolled-out on existing hardware, extending it’s life. You should expect to be able to access your virtual desktops from very basic old machines and experience improved performance (especially if they are struggling today). One potential watch-point here is peripherals; the desktop hardware must be able to support the required peripherals (e.g. Video camera, microphone).
Reduced power consumption
A typical thin-client uses about 10% of the power of a PC as it lacks a spinning hard-disk or a fan as well as typically running less-powerful processors. This dramatically reduces power consumption in the office and will also reduce the need for air-conditioning as PCs produce a lot of heat as they consume all that power. Even when we take a rounded view and draw-in the data centre power to the comparison, you should expect to see 70% savings. This is a little more contentious as it is dramatically affected by the density of desktops to servers and the level of storage deduplication you are able to achieve, but assuming you have these well optimized, 70% is achievable.
Optimise office space (hot-desks and home working)
Office space optimisation is a tough nut to crack and no single technical solution is going to make it “go away”, as there are team-working dynamics, HR considerations and a whole raft of other people-related issues to consider. However, having a desktop solution that gives a seamless and personalized experience wherever you access it from, is a very strong start. This gives the business the maximum flexibility to support hot-desking and home-working without having to worry about the technical infrastructure implications. Thin clients remain unpersonalised, as the users virtual desktop looks the same to them wherever they access it from, without them having to physically move a PC around. Because the virtual desktop remains permanently inside the corporate network, securely accessible via a remoting protocol, the end-user can use an insecure network to access it, like home or a coffee shop. This remains secure as no data passes between the machines othe than screen shots and key-strokes.
Simplified office networking
Many corporate office networks are relatively expensive to set up, particularly for smaller regional offices. It is cheaper, faster and easier to set up smaller, regional offices (or shops) with simple Internet connections. The components are more widely available and much cheaper as you can effectively use domestic equipment. The challenge is typically that sensitive customer data cannot be sent over the Internet and a traditional PC desktop model typically sends the data down to the PC either in a “client/server” application or simply via email. With a virtual desktop, sensitive customer data is retained centrally, the local devices are relatively dumb and the communication between the two can be easily locked-down and encrypted. The watch-point here is printing as, even with a virtual desktop, if you want to print locally, a spool file will still need to be sent to the local printer so you will need some mechanism for handling that securely.
Avoids need to buy PCs for third parties
PCs for third parties is one of the most obvious business-cases for VDI and is often the first (and sometimes the only) area to be implemented. Many corporates currently buy laptops for their third-parties as a mechanism for giving them secure and controlled access to the network and applications they need to do their job. The problem is that this is expensive and puts both the asset and your data/IP in the hands of individuals outside of your organisation and possibly even outside of your geography. Sending them a link for a virtual desktop will be cheaper than buying them a laptop and both the asset and the data/IP remain securely inside your data centre.
Cheaper and lower risk major upgrades
Major operating system (OS) upgrades are often associated with hardware refresh because older portions of the desktop hardware estate are too slow and have too little memory to run the new OS and associated applications. This adds complexity and risk to the upgrade implementation project because it means a visit to every desk in every office at the moment of software upgrade. This, in turn, means long implementations with long periods of parallel running and substantially increased risk. A virtual desktop solution allows the new software to become accessible from the old hardware, so that the implementation can become as simple as receiving an email with a your new log-in details. This also means that the old hardware and software remains in place as a fall-back if there is a problem with the new solution or if there a small number of rarely-used applications that have yet to be tested on the new platform. Future upgrades, once the estate is virtual, are greatly simified and remain distinct from hardware refresh cycles.