For the last several years I’ve received numerous reports about the imminent and massive adoption of desktop virtualization (VDI) in the enterprise space, and while the reality hasn’t come close to the hype, often because of network issues, it appears that the SMB market is now poised to jump on this still-stuck-in-first-gear bandwagon. According to a new survey from VMware, more than 60% of SMBs plan to roll out or evaluate desktop virtualization in 2012, seeking to reap the potentially enormous management and costs savings.
Desktop virtualization separates a PC desktop environment from a physical machine using the client-server model of computing, where the application software and data is hosted on a remote server, i.e., in the data center. According to the VMware study, potential benefits include: enabling IT to centrally manage and secure desktops, applications, and data, which can enable IT to protect data more easily; and the flexibility to deliver desktops and applications to any device, anywhere, making it simple to support geographically diverse teams.
So what’s not to like about VDI? An earlier study from CDW found that 90% of medium and large businesses are considering or implementing at least one form of client virtualization driven by the promise of reduced costs and improved operation efficiency.
In addition to announcing this massive interest in desktop virtualization, the CDW study also reported that 97% of respondents have faced challenges, including ensuring the technology will work on an individual level. One of the major speed bumps on the VDI technology on-ramp is the network.
VDI offers a number of operational benefits, and WAN optimizers can in theory help realize those benefits at the branch office, says David Greenfield, principal at STAnalytics, where he advises enterprises on emerging technologies. But this story will play out well for IT pros only when the WAN optimizers address all of the networking challenges – i.e., latency, packet loss and bandwidth – that can cause virtual applications and VDI to be unresponsive and/or unreliable across the WAN.
The poor performance of VDI across the WAN can be attributed to the network itself. Because virtualized applications are very interactive, they require screen updates and mouse movements to be sent over the WAN using thin-client protocols (for example, Citrix ICA and Microsoft RDP). However, what will work over a LAN, can be a problem over a WAN, where the performance of these protocols may result in slow screen refresh rates and occasional session disconnects. One solution is to deploy WAN optimization (WANop) devices on both ends of a WAN to improve the performance of enterprise applications traversing that WAN.
The question isn’t why VDI, but when? The benefits are too significant to ignore, but taking advantage of VDI will go a lot smoother when the appropriate network architecture is in place and users experience a work environment at least equal to, if not superior to, their current desktop environment.