Q&A: Addressing Desktop Virtualization Challenges

How to cut the cost of desktop virtualization

Virtualization isn't just a technology to increase server utilization. It can also handle desktop management. The problem is that there are often high upfront costs (especially due to infrastructure needs), which are difficult to justify in tough economic times and tight IT budgets. To learn more about the state of desktop virtualization, we turned to Krishna Subramanian, COO at Kaviza, whose mission is to "make desktop virtualization affordable, easy, and practical."

What is desktop virtualization and how has this market evolved over the last three years?

Desktop virtualization, aka virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), separates the desktop image from the physical PC and runs these virtualized desktops on central servers. By centralizing the management, desktop virtualization streamlines and cuts down desktop administration and troubleshooting costs, and improves security. As a result, customers are very interested in this approach -- Gartner says over 80 percent of their incoming client inquiries are about desktop virtualization. Despite such high customer interest, adoption so far has been limited to the very large enterprises because it has been costly and complex to deploy. Desktop virtualization is evolving to incorporate cloud computing.

Why has desktop virtualization so far not been considered appropriate for small and medium enterprises?

Deploying desktop virtualization has involved considerable infrastructure and expertise. Conventional desktop virtualization mirrors server virtualization and requires a data center build-out with shared storage SANs, high-speed interconnects, and multiple management servers. Because of the high upfront costs, it is hard to justify the return on investment (ROI) on smaller deployments -- those below several hundred desktops. Plus, most small and midsize Enterprises (SMEs) do not have the specialized IT expertise in storage and server virtualization needed to manage these environments.

What are some challenges SMEs face when considering desktop virtualization?

Desktop virtualization offers clear operational benefits, but there are several challenges SMEs will have to consider and plan for when moving to virtual desktops.

The first I'd like to mention is infrastructure requirements. SMEs need to accurately size the upfront infrastructure costs involved in deploying virtual desktops because the physical infrastructure accounts for over two-thirds of the cost of traditional desktop virtualization deployment. This is because conventional desktop virtualization requires shared storage and high-speed interconnects to provide high-availability so that multiple servers can share the running state of the virtual desktops. Shared-storage storage area networks (SANs) are expensive and complex to deploy.

Also, first-generation desktop virtualization requires additional management servers running Windows server operating systems and SQL databases to manage the environment. These added expenses -- and the complexity of managing these additional components -- need to be factored in. Often, customers are surprised by the unforeseen costs and investment needed for core features such as high-availability. By carefully factoring in the upfront costs of shared storage SANs and management servers, and the on-going complexity of managing them, SMEs can avoid unanticipated budget surprises.

Finally, there's the issue of user experience. Virtual desktops are streamed to end users using a protocol. There are a few different protocols used by desktop virtualization solutions, and some protocols are better optimized than others. SMEs should consider their typical desktop workloads -- do they involve graphics or are users likely to access desktops from remote locations? If so, they should look for virtual desktop solutions that run on protocols optimized for high-definition experience across a variety of networks including wide area networks (WANs).

What is desktop virtualization 2.0?

Desktop virtualization 2.0 extends the first wave of adoption by offering virtual desktop solutions that are "all-in-one," are easier to deploy, and are affordable for a wider range of environments.

How can SMEs benefit from desktop virtualization 2.0?

SMEs are looking to do more with less. With virtual desktops, SMEs can maximize their users' productivity by giving them anytime, anywhere seamless access to their desktop environments while cutting down the time and cost of updating, troubleshooting, and managing desktops. Customers report a more than 70 percent reduction in desktop patching and management costs by switching to virtual desktops.

Desktop virtualization 2.0 enables SMEs to realize these benefits at prices that fit their budgets. For less than the cost of buying new PCs, SMEs can now deploy virtual desktops, and they can do so without virtualization expertise and without compromising on high-availability. Overall, desktop virtualization 2.0 enables SMEs to realize an immediate return on virtual desktops by lowering both the upfront investment and the ongoing costs of buying and managing desktops while improving availability and security.

What are the options for SMEs in implementing desktop virtualization?

There are three options for SMEs looking to implement virtual desktops:

  • Use first-generation virtual desktop solutions and make a sizable investment upfront in data center infrastructure including SANs, management servers, interconnects, and the required IT expertise.
  • Look at alternatives to virtual desktops such as terminal services that are less expensive but limited and do not address desktop management issues, provide high-availability, or incorporate rich user experience and can have application compatibility issues.
  • Look at all-in-one affordable desktop virtualization solutions that are integrated and tailored for SMEs to get the full benefits of virtual desktops. These solutions should offer key features such as high-availability, scalability, and rich user experience without requiring shared storage SANs or expensive infrastructure, and they should be easy for desktop IT to setup and manage.

How should SMEs plan in terms of budgets and IT resources when looking at desktop virtualization?

Virtual desktops are an alternative to PCs -- so, to justify the move, they should be less expensive and easier to deploy and manage than PCs, without compromising end-user experience. A good way to get started with virtual desktops is to deploy them in phases, starting with PCs that are reaching their end of life, and repurposing them as endpoints to virtual desktops. This approach yields an immediate return on investment while giving SMEs the opportunity to incrementally grow the deployment over time.

What industries or verticals are appropriate for virtual desktops?

Virtual desktops are ideal for a variety of verticals and use cases -- health-care facilities, financial services, state and local governments, schools, universities, call centers, and manufacturers can all use virtual desktops for Windows 7 migration, PC replacement, and departments or branch offices.

Can you give some examples of SMEs that have successfully adopted virtual desktops?

Sure. Consider Bodilly CPAs, an accounting firm focused on servicing small businesses in Wisconsin, Madison, wanted to improve how their desktops were being managed. Having a PC at every desk required a full-time IT staff, and the PCs had to be individually patched and updated. This was expensive -- every time there was an update or a PC went down, user productivity was impacted. The CPAs use dual monitors at work, and they wanted to mirror the same experience when logging in from home so CPAs could work uninterrupted during the busy tax season. After considering various alternatives, Bodilly chose Kaviza virtual desktops and were able to switch from full-time, in-house IT to a part-time managed service and still get a full return on their investment in four months, the fastest return they had seen on any capital expense.

Here's another example: The Credit Counselling Society wanted to provide its counselors the ability to access their desktop from any of their branch locations seamlessly, while lowering desktop IT support costs and increasing uptime. They evaluated traditional virtual desktop solutions (such as VMware View) but appreciated being able to repurpose commodity servers they already owned. The organization estimated that Kaviza was one-fourth the cost of alternatives.

What are some mistakes and pitfalls to avoid when an SME considers desktop virtualization?

SMEs need to consider the full cost of deployment before choosing a virtual desktop solution -- more than two-thirds of the cost to deploy virtual desktops using first-generation solutions lies in the physical infrastructure. SMEs often underestimate these costs upfront. By choosing integrated solutions that have been designed to simplify the infrastructure requirements and eliminate the need for shared storage and high speed interconnects without compromising key features such as high-availability SMEs can get a complete solution that is easy and affordable. SMEs should also look for solutions that can be scaled down or up as needed.

What role does Kaviza play in the desktop virtualization market?

Kaviza VDI-in-a-box is an affordable, turnkey virtual desktop solution that enables SMEs to quickly and easily deploy virtual desktops for a total cost per desktop of less than $500 -- including all hardware and software. All the core features (including high-availability, high-definition user experience, and on-demand scaling) are integrated into the solution. We use a grid architecture to lower costs and eliminate the need for expensive infrastructure such as SANs, high-speed interconnects, and multiple management servers.