The "unfiltered truth" about desktop virt in 16 minutes: Brian's Silicon Angle TV interview

Last week after the Desktop Virtualization 2011 event in Boston, I was interviewed by Wikibon's Dave Vellante for the website SiliconAngle.TV. Our topic, of course, was desktop virtualization.

Last week after the Desktop Virtualization 2011 event in Boston, I was interviewed by Wikibon's Dave Vellante for the website SiliconAngle.TV. Our topic, of course, was desktop virtualization. I'm particularly proud of this interview though because I feel that we were able to hit most of my "soap box" issues, and I think it does a good job of framing desktop virtualization and VDI for the wider audience who's not involved with this day in, day out.

Here's the video (from SiliconAngle.TV, with their pre-roll ad).


Dave Vellante: Hi this Dave Vellante, We're at the Newton Marriot with Brian Madden of Brian, great session today. TechTarget had about 40 users here. I wasn't here this morning, had a bunch more upstairs listening to you as well, right?

Brian Madden: Yeah, you put the words "virtualization," "come listen," "what we want to do for desktops"… Its' a hot topic right now so people show up for that.

DV: Now people probably know this but we should clarify: you basically do desktop virtualization, that is your thing, 100% focused on that. Right?

BM: Desktop virtualization only, so one of my soapboxes is the fact that desktop virtualization and server virtualization are not the same thing. I'm a historical desktop guy, old school SMS, desktop management, help desk… and over the years I just rolled into desktop virtualization. All I do is desktop virtualization. 

DV: Let's talk about some of the differences between server virtualization and desktop virtualization. Where should users start thinking about those differences?

BM: Well they should start by, I mean, I don't understand why people even think they're the same? Servers and desktops are different, and I tell people, you know, in your data center you have one, you rack mount servers and on your desktop you have desktops, and so you don't have servers sitting under your desks for workstations. You have desktops for desktops and servers for servers. So, it's the same with virtualization. Just because the technology's the same; like they also both have printed circuit boards in them and cases made out of plastic that doesn't mean that they're the same. So, server and desktop virtualization, it's not that they have some differences, it's that there's nothing similar besides that they both two types of machines that are computers, but there's no similarity between desktop virtualization and server virtualization.

DV: So I'm not a desktop user, but obviously everybody's got laptops or desktops. I don't wanna give it up. Like, why should I give it up? Why are people doing VDI?

BM: You know, you shouldn't give it up! And this is the reason why the number of people doing VDI is zero. I mean, it's less than the margin, the number of people doing VDI in the world are less than the margin of error of your ability to count the number of people doing VDI in the world. And so I wrote, the only people who need VDI are already doing it because kinda by definition, if you need VDI you'd be doing it. And so, I write about this stuff all day long.

Now, we should be clear, desktop virtualization is not just VDI. There's terminal server-based session host technology, OS-streaming, there's client-based virtual machines. Frankly there's ways to manage images physically on desktops, not with hypervisors at all. There's a lot of different technologies that could be desktop virtualization but most people need VDI like a hole in their head.

So, I'm not a proponent of just running out and giving VDI to everyone. I think VDI can probably be used at every company but maybe for only certain users, like 2, 3, 4, 5 percent of their users. So there will eventually be, I think no problem around 20 - 30 million VDI users in the world. But right now it's not there and I don't see it happening any time soon. 

DV: So you were saying, you're not doing it to cut costs right? 

BM: Absolutely not. Because when people look at the benefits of VDI, they say ok, we're going to have more security, we're gonna have better performance, we're gonna be able to access our desktops anywhere from across any device and Mac and iPad and out on the golf course and all these kinds of things. It's all these great features like more availability, more features than you have now. So I don't know where in peoples' brains they somehow got this idea that VDI is gonna be cheaper than old desktops because you're adding like 15 new features. New features cost more money, you know? If you wanted to just virtualize your desktops with no new features, than yeah, we could do it cheaply, but they don't. They want the more, they want all these things. So there's nothing cheaper about the desktop virtualization flavor of VDI than there is for traditional desktops. 

DV: I think it's Paul Maritz, I think it's his fault, he's spreading that rumor. What do you think?

BM: I agree, and the problem with that is because they made a lot of money server virtualization and virtualization of servers. Server virtualization, kind of a slam dunk, no brainer. It was good for consolidation, it was good for power savings, it's good for cost savings, it's good for a lot of great things.

DV: It was a good business.

BM: It was. And the reason everyone uses server virtualization is because it actually makes sense and people aren't stupid, they do what makes sense.  When it comes down to desktop virtualization, the reasons people want to do desktop virtualization, the people did virtualization in the past including  Paul Maritz, they say "oh it's the same thing really." It's in their interest to have misinformation out there to make people, in their mind, think that oh, all virtualization is the same. That is, you know, VMware's brilliance to sort of get the whole market thinking that desktop virtualization, since VMware did the server virtualization for you, we should just do the desktop virtualization. Good for them from a marketing standpoint but that is just absolutely, there is no truth to that in the actual world.

DV: How about the whole notion of desktop. I mean, I said I don't have a desktop, do you have a desktop? You probably do right? You have a server under your desk. But a lot of people don't have desktops, I mean we have mobile, where does mobile fit into this whole thing?

BM: Well first of all I should say that in the context of desktop virtualization the word desktop is really meant to mean a desktop OS instance. So whether it's running on a laptop or desktop, or whether it's running in the cloud that you're accessing remotely, that's what we mean when we say desktops. We're talking about Windows or full Mac OS or Linux. 

DV: Ok, so what about mobile, so where does that fit? Is it part of the equation here or is it more in the future?

BM: So it depends on what you're talking about with mobile. If you're talking about mobile devices, like non-traditional form factor with non-traditional desktop OSs like tablets, phones, these kinds of things, all these devices are great examples of why there's better technology than VDI. because the thing is, I can take my iPad and run remote desktop on that to access Microsoft Outlook to access my email. But apart from showing off to a few people at a party for that do you want to do that on a daily basis? Absolutely not. Because my mobile device, my iPad, it has a client on it that's made for reading email, it's made for people to use their fingers and multiple fingers, and it works when it's offline and it caches data and it moves data back and forth and so we find that there is better ways to make applications for mobile devices than trying to take your traditional Windows apps that are made to operate with the keyboard and the mouse and trying to get them on to the mobile devices. 

DV: Now, you're not a storage guy, but you're super techy, you know about storage. I guess VDI or virtual desktop dragged you into storage and you made the comment today that storage or VDI, virtual desktop, is an IO blender. What do you mean by that?

BM: So one thing that's interesting is the way, I talk about some of the problems that we have in the desktop virtualization industry right now, one of the problems is that the world is standardized on Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Windows was never designed to be used in a way that we are trying to use it today. Like Windows was designed day 1, architected to run locally on a machine. You have a hard drive on the machine and you're gonna use it. You don't have to worry about sharing that hard drive with other users, you don't have to worry about storage or IO bandwidth to the hard drive. You just write and read as much as you want. So Windows has 20 years of history being designed to do whatever it wants to do to the hard drive. Now we want to take that copy of Windows and put it on to a shared server like a VDI or a terminal server and we wanna get you and 15 of your best friends all using the same server for the same Windows and every instance of Windows is thrashing, reading, writing that hard drive as if it were, you know, the only thing there. And so what we find out is, is Windows, as i said, doesn't play nice, doesn't know how to play nice with hypervisors that exist trying to manage all this stuff but at the end of the day Windows wants to read and write as much as it possibly can. And you take people who are traditional server virtualization people who, from a storage virtualization standpoint storage doesn't really change too much in the data center. Yea you have to know where your VMs live and stuff, but you know, the SAN, the databases, that's all the same as it's been for the past two decades. But when we put the desktops in the data center all these VMs are just thrashing thrashing thrashing the storage. And it just drops storage to its knees. 

DV: You know, I was actually struck because you're a desktop virtualization guy and you're saying get desktop virtualization the hell out of your data center. Why are you saying that?

BM: Well like I said, you need VDI like a hole in your head. So VDI, just to be clear, VDI is a flavor of putting a Windows desktop in a data center. Now, we've been able to do that for a long time with Terminal Server so really VDI, and Terminal Server, both of these are about data center-based desktops. As I said, data center-based desktops, including VDI, have advantages like higher availability and eyes-only security, and access from any device to get your desktop. These are all great advantages and people who need that should use VDI. But if you just want a way, if you just want security at the endpoint, there's software you can buy for $12 a user that's going to encrypt everything onsite, on your laptop. If all you want is a better way to manage your endpoint, you know if you do desktop management right, if you do SCCM, Altiris, Big Fix--well I guess don't look at Big Fix because they got swallowed up by IBM--but if you want to manage desktops more cheaply than the way you manage desktops today, there is zero percent chance you will be able to do that by building freaking gigantic VDIs with storage and all this stupid stuff in your data center.

If you wanna just manage desktops in a cheap way, look at where the desktop needs to operate. Users want to be able to go offline, to be able to travel, they're using different connections and they're all over the place. If a user, if their business requirements allow them to have a desktop workload that allows them to work locally on their laptop then by all means, let them run that workload on their laptop. Maybe you're gonna wrap it in a hypervisor running in the client, maybe you're gonna put in some partitioning or image management or something like that, that's a different conversation. But VDI, desktop virtualization, it's about desktop management. No, desktop management is not sexy to anyone, which is why people have had desktop management budgets for 20 years and things haven't changed. And now all of a sudden we have virtualization and everyone gets drunk on this concept and they're all over the place trying to virtualize their desktops but really it's about desktop management. And if we actually look at using some of these desktop virtualization technologies, to better manage our existing desktops and laptops out there, that's where we can save a lot of money and it is not done with VDI.

DV: So you're helping focus the discussion, I was very impressed by that. Helping users figure out where they really should use VDI and where they shouldn't. So let's just assume they've gone through that, and now they've got a good use case for it. What kinds of things would you advise, what's the 2 or 3 most important things they should be thinking about?

BM: Well, so if they went to VDI or they went to desktop virtualization?

DV: Let's start with desktop virtualization.

BM: So again, desktop virtualization is not just one technology. What's most important for people, and as they make the decision yes I'm going there or i'd like to go there, I look at two things. Number one, the irony of the desktop is that the desktop doesn't actually do anything, really. Users don't care about their desktop, they care about their applications and their data. And so, if people are looking at desktop virtualization, they first step to do is get their application house in order. Figure out how they're delivering applications to their users today. Are they using traditional installs, are they using SCCM to push them out, start to look at maybe application virtualization, so Microsoft App-V, VMware ThinApp, that kinda stuff. Virtualize and package these applications, which by the way, you can do for your traditional desktops even if desktop virtualization is two years down the road. Start to do the easy, low hanging fruit applications to get more and more in your environment virtualized so you can deliver as pre-existing, preinstalled packages into your clients. Then do the same thing with the user environment. So, people have been struggling with roaming profiles for years. So, Windows 7 isn't really helping things because most people are on Windows XP today and then they're gonna move to Windows 7 and have all new profiles and they can't go back and forth and it's going to be a huge headache. There's a lot of companies doing user virtualization, user environment virtualization. RES Software, AppSense, triCerat, these kinds of companies. These are the kinds of things, you can take your existing desktop environment today and throw a RES on there, throw an AppSense on there and let it watch all your users and your profiles and let it start to build these databases full of user configurations. And what you find is if you start to virtualize your applications, you've virtualized your user settings and user profile and user workspace environment, you can do this all before desktop virtualization, do it years ahead of time and then when you do finally move to desktop virtualization it's very very simple. So these small steps you take today can give you real value today with no "desktop virtualization" and then you can move into actual desktop virtualization at your leisure in a very controlled and stable way in a couple years.

DV: So what's your angle on Microsoft, you mentioned Microsoft. And desktop virtualization, is that a threat or an opportunity to Microsoft?

BM: Oh it's a gigantic threat that they will roll into an opportunity. Microsoft hates desktop virtualization because desktop virtualization is the idea that we're separating the physical device from the management of the device. Microsoft Windows is the idea that Windows is glued to that device. And think about it, even licensing today, the Windows SA licensing, is still device-based licensing. Why don't they have SA licensing that's based on users? And they say themselves, because it's in our DNA and it'll be like billions of dollars to change over our model and it would threaten the model because of course people use multiple devices and if you get your money based on devices then that's great. So the thing with Microsoft is that desktop virtualization getting in there and separating Windows from the device, that is very very bad for them. So Microsoft for the longest time has denied denied denied it even exists, using these asinine licensing models that are really hard to use, and then once VMware came into play, because Citrix was Microsoft's lapdog for the longest time and they'll just take these easy things of Terminal Server but no one's really changing the world. I mean, Citrix, their technology didn't really advance in the past 10 years until VMware came on, Microsoft reacted, Citrix reacted, and now all of a sudden Microsoft is all "oh yea we support desktop virtualization"  but by the way our licensing still doesn't and our VDA license to use a thin client costs a hundred dollars per year, in perpetuity. Everything Microsoft does, sort of anecdotally or circumstantially has shown they're trying to say FU to virtualization of the desktops. The Microsoft it's really about the cloud, it's about Azure, it's about owning the whole data center, and they will only bring desktops into that kicking and screaming. 

DV: And yet, desktop virtualization is still far more expensive than the traditional desktop model. So Microsoft has a lot of knobs it can turn from a licensing/cost standpoint, don't they?

BM: Well Microsoft had an amazing white paper talking about, analyzing how VDI is more expensive than traditional desktop management. Microsoft calls this the "Well-managed Desktop". So they say that's better than VDI in terms of cost, which I agree with, by the way. But ironically, the primary reason that they stated in their own white paper was the primary reason that traditional desktops are more expensive than virtual desktops is because it increased costs of licensing of the Microsoft products that they were writing about in their own paper. I mean, look, if they wanted to make it happen they've got knobs that they can twist in terms of tweaking the technology and they have licensing cost knobs that they could twist. If Microsoft wanted 100 million users using desktop virtualization by the end of next year, they could do it in an instant. They won't but they could. 

DV: Ok, so last question from me, Brian. For the users out there, if you've gotta go to one place to get the best information on desktop virtualization  would you say Citrix Synergy, VMworld or BriForum? 

BM: Thank you for the softball. Look, we love all conferences equally. So there's a conference called BriForum, that's gonna be our 10th conference this year, it's an independent conference, all the sessions are from members of the community, just about desktop virtualization. It's in London in May, it's in Chicago in July.

But I will also be speaking at Synergy in San Francisco in May and I've also submitted papers to be accepted hopefully at VMworld. So at the end of the day going anywhere to get information is better than going nowhere. If you go to a vendor conference take everything with a grain of salt but both VMworld and Citrix Synergy have gotten better in the past few years about allowing independent sessions. So now when people like me speak at both those conferences they don't review our slides, which they used to do 10 years ago, they're not reviewing slides, they're not making sure that we only do things a certain way. At Citrix Synergy one of my sessions is called 'How To Lie With Cost Models' and they accepted that session so I think any three of those conferences is good. 

DV: Doing lots of good work out there, See it on SiliconAngle, thanks Brian.



Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

Its refreshing to not have someone push all of the marketing BS of VDI to users.  

What is your favorite user virtualization software and your favorite app virtualization software and why?


Thanks for sharing this Bri. I really liked this as it didn’t feel rehearsed and pre-agreed; passionately yapping and grooving like its ‘70s again. I like!

The other  key takeaway was in the interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee, a text book example of selective attention and cognitive dissonance, both ways.


This article "hits the nail right on the head".

The cost of high end storage devices with the required IOPS will challenge a lot of VDI projects.

VDIs have specific use cases and it will be a mistake for organizations to assume they can have a 100% VDI adoption.


There has to be a typo or "Logic Flip" in the section shown below. VDI is more expensive than Traiitonal or is Traditional more expensive that VDI it can be both

BM: Well Microsoft had an amazing white paper talking about, analyzing how VDI is more expensive than traditional desktop management. Microsoft calls this the "Well-managed Desktop". So they say that's better than VDI in terms of cost, which I agree with, by the way. But ironically, the primary reason that they stated in their own white paper was the primary reason that traditional desktops are more expensive than virtual desktops is because it increased costs of licensing of the Microsoft products that they were writing about in their own paper. I mean, look, if they wanted to make it happen they've got knobs that they can twist in terms of tweaking the technology and they have licensing cost knobs that they could twist. If Microsoft wanted 100 million users using desktop virtualization by the end of next year, they could do it in an instant. They won't but they could.