With future 5G connections, why wouldn't every desktop be VDI?

5G mobile data connections will be here soon. With gigabit speeds and 1ms latency, this will be a game-changer for VDI

Last week I was at a joint Dell/VMware event where I spoke about the current state of the desktop virtualization market. After I was done, Shawn Bass spoke. Obviously I'd seen Shawn speak dozens of times over the past ten years, but I haven't seen him speak as much since he's been the CTO of End User Computing at VMware. (My point being that I actually paid attention this time. :)

As I've been thinking about what I want to write about for my final few articles on BrianMadden.com, I figured I'd focus on where we're going as an industry, and Shawn said something about the future that was a big "Ah ha" moment for me, so I wanted to share that here.

Shawn was talking about the upcoming 5G mobile network standard and what that might mean for VDI. I didn't write down the exact quote, but it was something like this:

5G networks are coming in the next 5 years. 5G will deliver gigabit-level bandwidth at 1ms latency over a mobile network. In that world, will users be able to tell a difference between a local and remote desktop? Will a remote desktop actually be a limiting factor? And if not, what can you do to get ready for that today?

I'm not sure if this is something that other people are talking about. (I guess yes?) But last week was the first that I actually thought about 5G in the context of VDI and remote Windows desktops.

Think about it. Going back to my first book about Citrix MetaFrame from 2002, we always talked about server-based computing (and VDI/RDSH) as being limited in terms of (1) network limitations mean the user experience will be reduced (as compared to local desktops), and (2) you can only use VDI/RDSH when you have a connection.

Putting aside the non-connected edge cases for a minute (airplanes, deserts, etc.), what would 5G mean for VDI? In today's world, we have 4G essentially everywhere, and remoting protocols are essentially perfect when you have 1Gbps / 1ms latency connections. So if we magically had that network available to us anywhere, is there a reason not to deliver a Windows desktop via VDI?

Most people think about mobile networks in the context of mobile devices--but keep in mind that in today's world, laptops & Chromebooks can use mobile networks for internet connectivity just as easily as phones and tablets. If 5G was a thing, it seems that we'd get to the point where a thin client-type laptop (Chromebook?) with a 5G connection would be totally fine? And in that world, can you think of a reason why you wouldn't want to just plan to use that as your default desktop delivery architecture for all your users?

Again, I say this in the context that in today's world, RDSH/VDI works perfectly fine as the "primary" solution for LAN / on-campus users--it's just been the mobile use case that's been a limiting factor. But remove that limitation....

So let's assume that 5G is a thing and it is Gbps/1ms-level connections. Let's assume you can get the same performance remotely (from anywhere) as you could locally. Now combine the other benefits of VDI (easier compliance, separate the device from the Windows instance, centralized upgrades, potentially easier security and compliance, keep your desktop running at all times, etc, etc. So assuming we have that in four or five years, what would you do today to get ready? How would that shape your current and near-future RDSH/VDI planning?

I'm not saying that we have to rip out our WiFi or that in 2020 we'll move all desktops to VDI. But given your current plans for RDSH, VDI, and/or DaaS, assuming a future 5G world, how would that change your plans? How would you deliver desktops in that world? And what can you do now to prepare?

Maybe the answer is that you do nothing now. But now that VDI technology is legit--storage is fixed, we can do real persistent or non-persistent, costs have come way down--I have to think that ubiquitous Gbps/1ms network connections are the next big barrier to fall which keeps us from (the potential for) VDI everywhere. So what would that world look like? What are you doing to get ready?

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Well, 5G will be metered, on an ongoing basis. WiFi and wired connections are "free" after installation (cheaper, anyway). 5G providers have a chokehold, I have more freedom and choices with my last miles.