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The Who and Why of VDI

July 5, 2011 - Technology

computer userThe company I work for is currently embarking on a project to virtualize desktops in select organizations.  Working in the IT department, it’s interesting to see that the majority of my colleagues are terrified of the concept, and hope to be one of the last groups converted.  While their greatest fear is the loss of control over their computer (more than any belief that VDI isn’t yet a viable option), it is critically important to understand the goal of a VDI deployment project, because this isn’t a technology you want to deploy for technology’s sake.  It has major change management implications.

Ken Hess, over at ZDNet, recently wrote an article applauding the new found viability of VDI and expressed the opinion that companies should start getting on the bandwagon.  But he didn’t once say why.  Why should companies start ditching their standard laptops for thin clients?  Why should “mobile sales people…embrace the change…”?  Why should it be the better solution for 90% of organizations?

A company’s answer to this question should be the driving factor behind any VDI deployment project: Why are we doing this?  Then the immediate second question should be: Who should get one?  Because it’s simply a fact — VDI isn’t for everyone.

Why VDI?

There are many reasons a company may decide to pursue desktop virtualization.  The goals that have been tossed around at my place of work include:

Cost savings through cheaper computers

A company can certainly save money by purchasing thin clients instead of fully equipped laptops.  However, don’t forget: VDI takes a lot more network bandwidth.  You will most likely need network upgrades to not suffer slow desktop performance.  Be sure to keep this upgrade and maintenance in mind when developing the business case, especially if the main purpose of deploying VDI is to achieve cost savings.

Better support through standardized desktop installations

help buttonIn a virtual desktop situation, the applications installed on the desktops are in complete control by IT.  During a VDI deployment project, one of the biggest activities will be determining which business group needs which applications installed, and developing a list of these standard desktop configurations.  In this way, there will no longer be any rogue installations of different browser versions, miscellaneous personal apps (such as iTunes), or other non-standard applications.  Every IT support team’s dream (but the source of the major change management required).

Increased productivity

With the thin clients typically come speedier boot-up times.  With the standardized business-role-based desktops come automatically installed business applications and better IT support for issues.  The case for increased productivity can be made; however, it’s always harder to justify these soft benefits, compared to the hard benefits that can be calculated for the other two “why’s”.

Who VDI?

Certain groups with special requirements may not be good candidates for VDI.  The specific groups that have been excluded from the deployment so far at the company I work for include:

travelling executive“Road warriors”

People who travel a lot and need to be able to work in the car, on a train, on a plane, on a boat (you get the idea) — they aren’t good candidates for VDI.  When using a virtual desktop only, you can’t do a single thing without a network connection.  And if those folks need to be supplemented with a fully equipped laptop, you may as well just exclude them from the VDI deployment plans.

Media specialists working with large files

This group of people will not only experience decreased performance compared to what they’re used to with a fully equipped computer, but they’ll also kill your network bandwidth if they’re on VDI.  Keep your media specialists on their equipped Apple machines, and everyone will be happier.

C-level executives

I can’t necessarily give you a good explanation for this one, except that this group of users enjoy having control over their devices, and have the power to demand it.  Unless VDI deployment for your company is a top-down push, and the C-level executives want to increase adoption by using it themselves, you’ll probably find that this group will be on the VDI exclusion list.


So the moral of this story is, if your company is undertaking a project to virtualize desktops, understand why so that the deployment team can focus and work to achieve those goals, then understand who so that people who shouldn’t get VDI don’t.  Never ever lose sight of why IT should do anything at all: Business benefits. VDI deployment should make sense for the business, not be deployed just because it’s the newest and the coolest.

Are you undertaking a VDI deployment?  What lessons has your team learned?

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