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?