Monday, March 30, 2009

VDI - The future Enterprise Desktop?

A lot of system integrators these days are pushing the thin client and VDI  - Virtual Desktop Infrastructure  - route for desktop management. While I can see the technical attractions of having a simpler deployment at the end user, there are a lot of business questions I think it raises.

First of all, how do we get all the current software onto the virtual machines? Deploying a new image - virtual or otherwise - needs to be managed as an integral part of the business. Each application getting packaged for this new deployment needs to be analyzed to be sure it works on the new platform. The important part here is to realise that this is a big change from more traditional fat clients, all implemented at once, so that a good deal of work goes into the building of that new platform, so that it can replace the current operating model.

To that end, technologies like Thinstall (ThinApp) or XenApp are there to help repackage applications virtually so that they can be deployed to work on the newer operating systems and ensure applications don't corrupt each other.

This does mean that two big changes need to be implemented at the same time of course.

Secondly, traditional software licensing models don't necessarily work on the new platform. VDI basically means that most users now only have a thin client which connects to a remotely running desktop OS running on a server. Does the license need to apply to the local small box, or the big server in the back end. Often with Terminal Server or Citrix environments, it means that every device or user capable of  running the software needs a license, and not just where it happens to be used or deployed. Care needs to be taken at how expensive applications are delivered to ensure that the license conditions are used in the best possible way.

Finally the user experience must be number one. Can users keep working the way they currently do? Will they be able to access their desktop when offline or out of the office? Must computers be switched off overnight, even if they have programs running? Can the local hardware be accessed by a remote virtual machine?

If we can answer these problems, then there are plenty of benefits to take on board. Gartner certainly sees this as a growth industry .
In particular, reducing the desktop refresh cycle from 3 years to 6-7 halves the cost to the environment and to the business of supporting users. Also it helps organisations switch to a hot-desk, quick switching flexible business where users can visit any office and yet use their own desktop with their own settings and data.

So the benefits are there. Are enterprise vendors assisting this technology enough to make it possible to switch?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Windows 7 RC in April

So Windows 7 is getting ever closer, and Microsoft has just announced a shopping list of changes that will make the platform much more enticing for its users. On Techtree - Windows 7 RC Gets 36 Changes I read about some of these and wondered how this will make Windows 7 more acceptable to enterprises. 
In fact there is not much to see from my point of view. The main issue with Vista was that it required too much change for an enterprise in terms of supported applications, and features that would create loads of support issues - like User Access Control. On top of this, it required a large step up in terms of hardware requirements.
Network World doesn't see much more than the ability to run without a VPN - using Direct Access as an advantage. The difference now is that companies have probably updated hardware since Vista came out, but Windows 7 has been build better for low-spec machines.
However the PowerShell advances will allow better management capabilities of remote machines. AppLocker allows lockdown of users to stop downloading unauthorised software. Search will enable stronger enterprise search capabilities.
At the end of the day though, the main benefits will just be that Microsoft is making an easier upgrade path for its users than Vista. Windows 7 is really just a refinement; a platform which takes advantage of the hardware advances. UAC still needs to be configured to be less bothersome. 
Then again, people are so much more into gadgets these days, and the multimedia improvements and device management within Windows 7 could entice enough users over to make the change.