As CEO of Molten Technologies, an independent virtual desktop specialist, I often find myself enthusing about VDI, especially as a service, vs the traditional fat-client PC model and I have heard every push-back in the business (and some that ought not to be). In this series of articles, I will expose the most common and a few of my favourite rarer ones.
I wish I had a pound for every time someone has said to me “but it doesn’t work off-line, does it?”.
Let’s start with the obvious. Yes, any on-line service requires a connection of some sort. Yes, virtual desktop infrastructure is fundamentally an on-line service. However, it is only on-line because we designed it that way, there is no technical reason why a virtual machine cannot run on a local fat-client and there are a number of solutions that can make that work for you. Complaining that VDI doesn’t work off-line is a bit like complaining that a weight-loss diet is too low in calories for training Olympic athletes. It is that way because it was meant to be. It isn’t a limitation it is a deliberate feature. Use VDI for user-groups
- whose data you want to keep securely locked away inside your your network,
- to whose machines you want to be able to send instant security patches even if their users are fast asleep with their machine turned off,
- who will appreciate the freedom of being able to leave their heavy PC at work and still be able to access their corporate desktop at home,
- for whom you don’t want to keep buying refreshed hardware every time Microsoft fancies rendering the old hardware obsolete.
If you have a user group that really requires off-line access, then consider a local hypervisor solution (some even have a check-in/check-out facility) or simply leave them using laptops.
Second, the great myth that the majority of knowledge-workers with laptops require off-line access to their desktop. There are those that do, so there is a genuine piece of work to do to sort the wheat from the chaff, but the vast majority absolutely do not. The laptop has become short-hand for “manager” and gets handed out as a perk in many organisations or to save the effort of having to think about it. I have even seen one example where a business gave their staff laptops because they wanted to be able shift people around the office occasionally and it makes desk-moves easier. Laptops get locked in pedestals at night, they get carried home to use at home (but not while driving or on the train) and they get chained to the top of the desk. When staff do use them while disconnected, they are usually reading emails, which they could just ask well do on a Blackberry. Ask yourself how many of your corporate applications work off-line. Personally, I travel regularly and I use an iPad and a virtual desktop. When I am disconnected I can still read or draft emails on the native iPad and when I get a decent connection (3G will do fine) I get the full power of my virtual desktop without having the weight and bulk of a laptop. The first day that I left the office without my heavy, bulky lap-top bag was an absolute joy.
Third, just because you can find one user-group that needs to keep their laptops, it doesn’t mean that VDI is a bad idea for everyone else (that would be like a tail wagging a dog). In the real world, you are never going to have VDI for 100% of your users. Some will only use a very limited number of applications and can use thin-clients accessing a virtualised application. These users don’t need a full desktop at all. Some will require a full desktop off-line and the right answer for them may be a laptop (perhaps running a local virtual machine). A great many others will likely benefit from a shift to VDI. A mixed estate is perfectly manageable, with the right tools, you can even keep consistent management processes across the estate.
My advice is rejoice in VDI as a flexible, secure, manageable, agile, cheap, performant and green alternative to PCs for a large number your staff without getting too upset if others require a different answer.