VDI as a Service is better than VDI

Last week, I attended Cloud Field Day 7 and some sessions with VMware, they spoke about the service and product ecosystem they are building on top of VMware on AWS, such as VDI and DRaaS.

These are not fully managed services but I think there is some value in what they are doing, and wanted to collect a few thoughts about VDI here in this post (soon to be followed by DraaS). Now, this is not a post about VMware, but more generally about some considerations about COVID-19 and other events that are impacting IT strategies. In the following days, I will also talk about DRaaS and we have several podcasts coming out on this topic (the first episode of Voices on Innovation for example).

Is This the Year of VDI?

“This is the year of VDI” is one of the common jokes that you hear at the beginning of every new year. Unfortunately, it has never been the year of VDI and it probably never will be. VDI is and will remain a niche for several reasons, including costs, but also because many of its theoretical advantages can be easily obtained with other technologies, many users don’t really need a traditional desktop anymore. How many of you are actually working with a laptop instead of a traditional desktop? And how many workflows include mobile device interactions as part of the process? The common trend is to grant access to data from anywhere and any device (at any time) and, following this paradigm, VDI doesn’t help at all while other approaches can even improve productivity and flexibility.

Jon Collins wrote an article about the debate around VDI not long ago, and opinions among GigaOm’s analysts are very different in this regard, but it is clear that VDI is still a niche. During CFD7, VMware told us that their solution (Horizon) has been deployed for several use cases for a total of 11M virtual PCs under management, roughly counting for half of the market. This means that the total market can be in a range between 22 and 25Millions VDI instances. If you consider that the total amount of PCs shipped in the world last year was more than 261M you have an idea of what we are talking about here.

Is This the Year of VDI-aaS?

I think VDIaaS (or Desktop-aaS?) is a totally different story. Well, not that it will change things much in terms of total numbers, but cloud adds the necessary flexibility to make VDI more appealing in a lot of use cases. Think about the COVID19 crisis, you need to move hundreds or thousands of employees quickly from the office to their homes, give them access to a secure computer and let them operate as seamlessly as possible. VDI is not a bad option and one that helps you to keep perimeter security tight, even if the user logs in from a computer that is usually in the hands of their kids! You just extend your network to the cloud, spin up the virtual desktops you need, for the time you need them, and that’s it.

Sure, it is expensive, but risking the introduction of any sort of security threat you can think of can be much more expensive than that.

Approaches to VDI on the Cloud

Fundamentally there are two approaches to VDI on the cloud. One is a fully managed service, while the other is building your own VDI infrastructure with the licenses and resources available from your cloud provider of choices.

The first, VDIaaS, is the easiest way to go about it. It is optimal for any greenfield deployment and in cases where you don’t really need a very particular configuration that is not possible with the provider provided tools. All major providers have options in this regard and, at first sight, they are very comparable in terms of features and prices. Local and specialized providers can do even better and offer tailored services that can satisfy more demanding needs as well as specific industry regulations.

The second option is DIY (Do it Yourself). The advantage, like in the case of VMware, is that you keep full control of your infrastructure using familiar tools (like Horizon) and a trusted environment (VMware Cloud on AWS). As was demonstrated during the session, you can also expand your on-premises VDI infrastructure with the cloud, in this case, apply the same policies and reuse all of the work previously done. This also simplifies the deployment and onboarding processes for the users too.

I’m not sure which one of these will be more expensive in the end. The first will have a better TCA, while the second will be better in terms of TCO, especially for very large organizations with thousands of VDI under management in the cloud and on-premises.

Closing the Circle

VDIaaS can really simplify the life of an IT organization in a time of crisis. You can quickly re-modulate and reposition your PC fleet following business indications quickly. On the other hand, this is nothing that you can’t achieve with laptops, good VPN, management tools, and common sense. VDI fans will argue than VDI is much more but, again, if we are still debating this after so many years, it is clear that most of the promised benefits are not that visible in the real life.

There are several other niche use cases for which VDIaaS is more beneficial than traditional VDI. But, we are talking about benefits seen at the core and not at the edge where most VDI deployments are made with PC. And the PC-in-a-PC concept is something that doesn’t make a lot of sense to begin with!

Last but not least, it is clear I’m not a fan of VDI, but I find VDIaaS much more interesting than traditional VDI. Less expensive to start, less expensive over time, less expensive if it is not for you and want to get rid of it. All of this while giving you more flexibility than traditional VDI.

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