After news of Windows Virtual Desktop came out last year, someone in my company asked me, “Does this mean that companies like ours could finally go to VDI?” They had been hearing proclamations about the “Year of VDI” for a long time, and were wondering if this was finally it.
The answer to my colleague’s question was basically, “no.” In most scenarios with typical business professional users, VDI still means a worse experience, and users would miss having their desktop run locally on their laptop. (By the way, I’m saying VDI as shorthand for traditional VDI, DaaS, RDSH, cloud-hosted VDI, Windows Virtual Desktop, etc.) Plus, IT already has their hands full, in many cases with migrating off Windows 7 before the end of the year or deploying Office 365. So why use VDI?
There are many good reasons to do VDI, and Brian Madden outlined the standard ones over at the VMware blog, including: getting Windows apps to non-Windows endpoints; providing good performance over slow connections; running apps that need a lot of resources; security; management; and so on. But at the end of the day, when you ask, “why use VDI,” you still need a darn good reason.
Having said that, VDI is indeed getting cheaper and easier thanks to the cloud. So, there are many scenarios where, in the past, you might have had a good reason to use VDI but decided not to because it was expensive and complicated, but now, maybe you can say yes.
In other words, the needle is moving on formerly marginal use cases. Examples that come to mind:
- VDI for disaster recovery. Perhaps you backup your laptops and desktops, and then if a hurricane comes, then you can take those backups and spin them up in the cloud.
- Workstations for temporary employees. A lot of visual effects companies will bring in additional contractors for bigger jobs. Instead of buying new workstations for these artists, thanks to the last five years of progress in graphics and GPU virtualization, they can just spin up virtual workstations in the public cloud.
- High security contractor scenarios. Say you don’t want your data on a contractor’s laptop, instead of shipping them a corporate laptop, just spin up a cloud desktop.
One pattern here is that these are all part-time scenarios. So that means for a typical business professional who does a mixture of working from the office, business travel, and working from home, VDI isn’t going to be replacing their locally installed Windows copy any time soon.
What’s more likely to change for these user? The company could to decide to offer Macs (just look at Jamf’s growth, or how you can now deploy Office apps from the Mac App Store). Or the company will bring in elements of the Modern Management spectrum. Maybe some users with narrower requirements can go over to Chromebooks, too.
Perhaps the typical business professional could maybe use VDI or published apps occasionally. We’ve always envisioned a future where your last few remaining Windows-only apps are delivered remotely from the cloud. Think of some app that just one depart needs for a few hours every quarter to close the books, or something like that.
Again, the key here is that it’s a part-time scenario. With traditional on-premises VDI, there’s no way you’d go to all that expense and trouble for an app that gets used only a couple of days a year (and not just so a few departments could go to Macs). But now, things like Windows Virtual Desktop, which is basically free except for the workload compute hours, make this possible.
So is this the year of VDI? I don’t think there will ever be a single year of VDI, though this is certainly the year that everyone is talking about cloud desktops.
When you ask, “Why use VDI,” you still need a darn good reason. We’re not going to switch over desktops wholesale just because VDI is getting cheaper and easier and rentable as a service. However, the use cases and reasons where it makes sense are expanding.