VDI use cases don't have to be full-time to be useful

When I talk to customers about virtual desktops, it's interesting how personally detached IT managers and systems administrators are from the conversation.

When I talk to customers about virtual desktops, it’s interesting how personally detached IT managers and systems administrators are from the conversation. No matter how hard I try explain that we’ve continued to broaden applicable use cases, and how we can handle even the most demanding workloads, it’s as if we’re only talking about ‘those other people’, or those ‘task workers’–the ones that sit and do ‘data entry’ for 8 hours a day. It’s time to realize that using a virtual desktop is broader than some people using one “8 hours a day” rather it’s now about everyone using one “8 minutes at a time”.

The multi-device workspace is here

Despite working for VMware and thinking Fusion is amazing for testing out new software, whenever I fire up a Windows VM on my Mac, I feel like I have somehow failed. Why couldn’t I get whatever file it is someone sent me to open natively in OSX? Why hasn’t IT upgraded that crummy Oracle app to work with Safari/Chrome? When am I going to take the time to learn a scripting language other than VBscript? These are the questions that typically go through my mind while waiting to resume a Windows VM.

Seeing a need for this functionality crossover from consumer to enterprise is further evidence of the trend. As an avid home theater guy, I’ve been using similar solutions for years to remotely manage SageTV running on Windows from my mobile devices. I bought Wyse PocketCloud the day it hit the app store, and still today I use LogMeIn to turn off my HTPC when I’m on the road.

From a work perspective, it’s gotten even easier for me with the View Client for iPhone. When a ‘Windows-only’ situation presents itself, I jump quickly onto my virtual desktop located on the opposite side of the continent. While traveling, I do nearly all my expense reports from my virtual desktop via an iPad, and when I schedule a WebEx, chances are that I’m using my virtual desktop because I can use the more robust meeting scheduling features of the WebEx plugin for Outlook.

This is all about ease of accessibility. I am either talking on or within inches of my iPhone 24 hours a day. I’m with my iPad as a companion device about 8 hours a day and carry my OSX laptop whenever I travel. That means the chances of finding me when I don’t have Windows running locally is pretty good. But for me, a virtual desktop is just right!

Newsflash: YOU too are a “Task Worker”

We’ve spent so much time talking about how to identify the right ‘use case’ for VDI over the years. We continue to gravitate towards the lower-end user workloads as the easiest candidates for virtual desktops. In doing so we’ve overlooked a much larger and underserved population–those that wouldn’t be defined as task workers based on what they do all day long, but rather have certain “task work” still tied to a legacy Windows environment. 

It is the information/knowledge workers that mostly likely have started to abandon Windows from their laptops and tend to spend more time on mobile platforms. Sure, there will be the hours when you’re reviewing business data that you might be classified as “an information worker”, or when you install a new fancy USB peripheral–that might get you labeled as a “power user”. Very few can complete all their business tasks without requiring good ol’ “Windows” to get the job done.

Conclusion

My ask is that you consider expand your perspective as to where virtual desktops may play a continuing role. Not for a subset of your workforce, but for a subset of tasks for everyone. I vividly remember rolling out PC’s across the globe in 1996. At that time my mix was 80/20 Desktops to Laptops. In 2000, it flipped to 80/20 Laptops to Desktops. Today, I’m 80/20 Mobile to ‘PC’. When it comes to supporting the long tail of Windows in the enterprise, virtual desktops are great – even if only for 8 minutes at a time.

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I understand the use-case, but Microsoft's licensing rules for Office and Windows don't make VDI (as in Server Hosted Virtual Desktops) particularly friendly to license. Assuming you have SA and the user has a company device then you are OK for personally-owned devices that aren't on the company premises, but for devices on premises or which are company-owned it gets messy and potentially expensive.


Using RDS/XenApp is a bit better because as long as you have per-user CALs it removes the problem for Windows itself, but Office is still an issue. I notice that Microsoft has just introduced a companion license which if purchased in addition to Software Assurance puts VDI roughly in the same situation as RDS/XenApp. It looks like it costs roughly $50 per year per user and allows that user to use any device that is either personally owned or can't run Windows Professional to access VDI.


Citrix RemotePC or even direct RDP to a desktop is one step better again from a licensing perspective because the primary user of that desktop is allowed to access both Windows and Office from any device.  


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David,


Good post, but VBScript? Man, you are behind the times!


I agree with everything you wrote with one major caveat: when it's 8 minutes at a time rather than 8 hours, you are likely much better served by published applications than by a published desktop. As you yourself described, 8 minutes at a time means that the virtual Windows desktop is not your primary work environment. It's somewhere you go to get to apps quickly, and get back out quickly. Therefore, it makes much more sense to get to the apps directly from your actual primary work environment. Why would you want to use Windows on an iPhone or iPad just to launch some Oracle app, instead of launching that Oracle app as a published application directly from the iPhone / iPad?


@DanShappir


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I guess I do this now via my office desktop with LogMeIn. But I'm with the other commenters that in general this is expensive. At TechTarget we're doing this with Terminal Server today. Nothing fancy.. just a server sitting in a corner with Office and our other enterprise apps preinstalled.. runs the login script, maps the drives, maintains profiles, etc. And that's just a single server that cost like $3k that can host 100 sessions no prob.


So I love the idea, but I'm not sold on needing VDI for it versus POTS. (Plain Old Terminal Services)


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The vast majority of people are still using apps and email on their Windows machines for work, especially when moving beyond task worker. So it's a little more than just 8 minutes. For the 8 minute use case totally agree with @danshappir, RDS.


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Thanks everyone for the comments and the inclusion!  -  A special thank-you to those that took the time to stop me today at VMworld Barcelona to say you saw the blog (hence the tardy reply).


I should have had a reply queued up knowing someone (or 4) would toss the VDI vs. RDSH hand grenade :-)


I'm not ignorant to the option and I have deployed several published applications in my career.  Fine for IT mandated, controlled enterprise apps but in my experience it fell short mainly around user installed apps.  There were other challenges as well : IPC between LexisNexis and Office ? - User installed Salesforce.com/WebEx/LinkedIn plugin to Outlook ? - Exporting BI data from SAP Gui to run a local script/macro ? ... I find VDI to provide greater coverage in a way consistent with what users are already comfortable with.  That 'way' being the Windows environment they left behind.  In these situations, I stand by using VDI for 8 minutes at a time.  


Is it right for everyone? - No. - Will everyone have the same set of tasks they need to complete? - Of course not.  But rather than bifurcate the solution, VDI for me delivered a common solution for a superset of scenarios.


Why offer a desktop vs. a seamless app ? That's a tangent primarily around personal preference as I don't think what I like is necessarily right for everyone.  - I personally think Unity in Fusion is cool, but before switching to View for getting my 8 minute a day Windows fix, I found I never used it because I'm often leveraging multiple Windows apps together and toggling between my OSX and Windows desktops wasn't any hinderance.


All this said, my intent was not to rekindle a debate on the technology solution so much as it was to extend the problem statement to include those we may otherwise pass by.  From the comments here and in person, I consider that to have been a success.


Thanks again -


David


@dstafford


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David, thanks for the interesting insight on daily work habits and the systems required to support them.


I would like to make a couple of points though. The VMware based infrastructure that you rely on......I assume it's VMware based, right :) ....is complex, and expensive. I am sure VMware has the skills and the cash, plus the vendor motivation, to deploy such a solution. But, other companies may not share these circumstances, especially for "8 minutes a day".


Second, you note that "I personally think Unity in Fusion is cool, but before switching to View for getting my 8 minute a day Windows fix, I found I never used it because I'm often leveraging multiple Windows apps together and toggling between my OSX and Windows desktops wasn't any hinderance."


So, other than a corporate mandate to use View, why bother with the complexity and expense of VDI for an "8 minutes a day Windows fix"?  Why replicate the local horsepower of the Mac (Intel CPU, graphics processor, RAM) with very expensive data center infrastructure? Especially for 8 minutes a day!


This can be accomplished using Fusion on the Mac. And the Mac solves your mobile (over low grade WAN and WiFi connections) and off-line use case scenarios. Both View and Citrix XEN Desktop (heck, any remote delivered desktop service) stumble badly when faced with these requirements.


However, to do this with a Mac requires a way to efficiently deploy, integrate, manage and secure Macs with enterprise infrastructure.


Last, it seems that the major issue, and one that is completely overlooked, is that your primary computer is a Mac. As with all BYOC scenarios, the Mac is left unmanaged and thus, insecure.


I agree with your 80/20 analogy. For many of us, we use laptops as our primary device, not a desktop, and rely heavily on smartphones and tablets.  I would be surprised however if many users really use, or want to use, Windows on an iPhone, and even an iPad. The user experience is just poor. Having the ability to quickly check a file or document is one thing, but running Windows. Not likely.


The way you work - on a Mac with the occasional need for a "Windows fix", mobile and off-line, and using smartphones and tablets to complement your primary computer, is the use case for which we developed OPUS Intelligent Desktop Virtualization for the Mac.


It addresses the mobility/off-line use case, supports Mac and Windows apps leveraging Fusion, and provides IT with a way to manage BYOC Macs (where the user has local Admin rights on the device, not IT) and ensure data security on the end point and in-transit.


And it does so using less than 5% of the server resources of View or XEN. It installs as a virtual appliance on vSphere or XEN and gives enterprise IT techs a way to easily deploy, integrate and manage Macs....without the need for Apple server technologies or skills.


Just a smarter way to support the business requirements of users like you. And at a fraction of the cost of View or XEN Desktop.


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Thanks Derek - I'm still looking forward to learning more about your companies solution - it's hard for me to comment on a blog or respond to something I'm openly not familiar with.


I met with a customer this morning and shared my "8 minutes at a time" perspective - 4 of the 5 violently agreed with me and said they do exactly as I do.  They cited the added load that running a VM on a lower end MacBook Air as a reason.   I focused in on the guy that didn't agree.  He's based in Barcelona and travels between sites in Europe and corporate HQ heavily.  He wouldn't dream of losing offline access and introduced another expense we haven't mentioned and that is mobile data/connectivity.  I'll be quick to acknowledge that as yet another use case better suited for local vs hosted Windows.


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David, always open to sharing information with fellow members of our community. Drop me a note at d.smith@orchardparc.com and we can schedule a chat.


As far as your comment about running a VM on a lower end MacBook Air, not quite sure that is relevant, or accurate. Most Mac users use Mac apps, and the occasional Windows app.  Just yesterday, I was told be a View "expert" that it only takes 300-500MB RAM for Win 7 on a server with View. (OK, I must admit I laughed out loud) Why would a 4GB RAM Mac Air not be sufficient? What was the workload of the users in question? That may be the case, so upgrade the machines.


Please note, that for an additional $100, Apple provides 8GB RAM over the base 4GB. And a Mac Mini or iMac can be upgraded to 16GB of RAM for $129  (OWC pricing as of Oct , 2012).


I agree that more RAM is always a good idea regardless if it is a native Windows desktop or virtual.


But, here's the thing. How much money does it cost to deliver a hosted Win 7 desktop? And deliver apps that won't run on a 4GB Mac Air? That expense is far greater than additional memory on a Mac. Heck, you could buy Macs "loaded for bear" and still save money over the cost of a server hosted desktop.


It would seem the the question is not whether the scenario works from a technical perspective with a lower end Mac Air, but that the user experience "may" be sub optimal.  And I agree that this is a concern that get too little attention.


But, at the same time this argument is raised, we are expected to believe that the user experience of running Win 7 on an iPhone is viable, and that the user experience is worth the investment in Microsoft licences and infrastructure.


Sorry, I am just not buying it. Remote hosted Windows sucks on an iPad, I can only imagine how bad it would be on an iPhone. It may be an interesting "technical exercise" but it is hardly practical to use, if even only for just 8 minutes a day!


At the end of the day, VDI from either VMW or Citrix, has a place in our tool bag, but does not address several significant requirements:


* Mobile and off-line use is poorly supported, if supported at all


* VDI does not protect end point data


* Cannot deliver Mac apps


* Leaves the end point Mac unmanaged, and thus insecure


As I will be pleased to share, our solution is designed to complement VMware vSphere and address the "gaps" in View. It's a virtual appliance designed specifically to address the integration, security and management issues that Mac BYOC presents. And does so at a fraction of the server, storage and network requirements of View or Citrix.


Drop me a note and we can connect.


All the best


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