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VDI technology better, faster and cheaper, but adoption still slow

Allen Bernard | Sept. 26, 2013
Virtual desktop infrastructure has come a long way since the terminal service days of the 1960s. Heck, VDI has come a long way since the 2000s thanks to plummeting prices for clients, better graphics cards and improved administration. By and large, though, VDI deployments remain more of a niche solution.

Several advancements explain this dramatic price drop:

  • Lower costs for archival and cache storage.
  • Improved in-line data deduplication for desktop environments.
  • Cheap Teradici zero clients and thin clients.
  • PCoIP (VMware/Tersdici), HDX (Citrix) and Microsoft RemoteFX user datagram protocols for streaming graphics as bitmaps.
  • Support of Android and iOS mobile operating systems.
  • The Windows 7 desktop, which is more VDI-friendly than Windows XP.
  • Thin provisioning of tiered hybrid storage infrastructures, using SSD for caching and HDD for archival storage.
  • Fast caching appliances, from companies such as Alacritech, which also extend SSD life
  • New end-to-end application performance monitoring tools from startups such as Aternity and AppNeta.
  • Software vendors allowing VDI licenses for their products.
  • High-performance graphics cards (GPUs) that take over the heavy lifting from server and client CPUs and push out 3-D graphics in a VM environment.

Taken together, these technologies bring numerous benefits to VDI: Centralized management, patching and support; improved data security; robust DR/BC support, including shorter data recovery times; easier BYOD roll-out and management, and centralized document and data storage.

But there's an additional cost to get started, says Gartner's Mark Margevicius, vice president and research director for client computing. "The way we see it, desktop virtualization is really a premium offering. While it has great applicability, it's something customers have to be willing to spend more money on."

This premium, which can approach 40 percent, comes from having to build the infrastructure to support all those virtualized desktops and, potentially, buy virtual desktop access licenses from Microsoft for each device. (Unless a company has Microsoft Software Assurance as part of its licensing, it can cost up to $100 per device to extend Windows beyond the workstation.) Some costs can be offset with converged infrastructures from vendors such as Cisco Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and VCE.

Niche VDI Deployments Still Dominate

Even with renewed interest and increased adoption, the VDI market is puny, at no more than 4 percent of all workstation deployments, though Gartner projects this number to double by 2016.

VDI is most often deployed in niche environments for a small subset of users or in places such as call centers. In addition, industries that put a premium on security and ease of use, including financial services and healthcare, are warming to VDI. So is manufacturing, Strohmeyer says, which sees VDI as a way to enable secure collaboration and version control of globally distributed design-side processes and intellectual property.

Related: VDI Brings Need for Endpoint Protection for Virtualization

Then again, companies that put a high value on flexibility have rolled out VDI to almost everyone. After piloting VDI in 2009, the health insurer Aetna has since rolled it out to 27,000 employees and business partners.


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