2009
12.11

I was talking to a few consultants last week and lots of the CIO’s they are meeting are talking about one thing right now: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI.  They’ve been hearing this term from many sources.  VMware has made a bit of a push on it, Citrix have made a huge push on it seeing their Presentation Server (or whatever the hell it’s called this week) getting squeezed out by MS, and MS has released Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2008 R2.  It seems these CIO’s want to talk about nothing else right now.

I can understand the thinking about VDI.  It can solve branch office issue by placing the desktop beside the data and server applications in the data centre.  Unlike Terminal Services a helpdesk engineer can mage changes to a VDI machine without change control.  Instead of PC’s you can use terminals that should be cheaper and should have no OS to manage.  It all sounds like costs should be cheaper and all that “nasty” PC management should disappear.  Right?

*Ahem* Not quite.

  • Branch Offices: Yes this is true.  By placing the VM, the user’s execution environment, in the data centre you speeds up access to data and services for remote users.  Let me ask a question here.  How much does sit cost to buy a PC?  Around €400 or thereabouts will do for a decent office PC.  It even comes with an OEM license for Windows.  How much does it cost for 2GB RAM in a server?  Around €200, not to mention the cost of the server chassis, the rack space, the power and the cooling.  How about storage?  A PC comes with a SATA disk.  A €250 GB SATA drive for a server is around €250.  It seems to me that we’ve already exceeded the up fronts.  I have done detailed breakdowns on this stuff at work to compare VDI with Terminal Services.  With VDI there is no memory or storage usage optimisation.  You get this with Terminal Services.  My opinion has changed over time.  Now I say if you want to do end user computing in the data centre then Terminal Services is probably the way to go.
  • Change Control: On a very basic VDI system, yes a helpdesk engineer an fix a problem for a end user without change control.  Terminal Services does absolutely require change control because a change to software on the server affects everyone.  However, if you are using pooled VDI or trash’n’burn VDI (VM invoked when a user logs in and destroyed when the log out) then there’s a good chance the problem returns when the user logs in again, thus requiring second or third level engineering.
  • Terminal Cheaper than PC’s: Hah!  I went out of my way at a recent Citrix VDI event here in Dublin to talk to one of the sponsors about terminals and their costs.  Their terminals were about the same cost as a PC or laptop depending on the form factor.
  • Terminals have less management than PC’s: Uh, wrong again.  There is still an operating system to manage on these machines and it’s one that has less elegant management solutions.  It still needs to be populated and controlled.  I’ve also been unable to get an answer from anyone on whether EasyPrint support is added into any of the terminals out there.  Without EasyPrint you either have awful cross-WAN printing experience or pay up for expensive 3rd party printing solutions.
  • Terminals cheaper part 2: The user still needs a copy of Vista or Windows 7 for their virtual machine where does that come from? You need to know that you cannot go out and use just any old Windows license in a VDI environment.  It has to be a special one called Virtual Enterprise Centralised Desktop (VECD).  This can only be purchased if you have software assurance on your desktop … uh … but we’re running terminals without a Windows Vista/7 license.  Yeah, ask your LAR about that one!  And we know SA adds around 33% to your costs every 2 to 3 years.  That PC with an OEM install of Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate is sounding pretty sweet right about now.
  • VDI is easier to manage: How do you manage a PC?  You have to put AV on it, you have to patch it, you have to deploy software to it, you have to report on license usage, you have to use group policy, etc.  That’s everything you also have to do with VDI using the exact same techniques and systems.  I see nothing so far about hardware management.  Let’s look at that.  You have to have 2 power sockets, a network socket and cabling, and every now and then one breaks and has to be replaced/repaired.  That sounds like everything you have to do with a terminal.  OK; the operating system on the machine?  I grant you that one.  A terminal has a built in OS.  A PC has to be installed but you can easily use MDT (network or media) to build PC’s with almost no effort and it’s free.  You also have ConfigMgr and WDS as alternative approaches.  WDS even allows people to build their own PC’s from an access controlled image.

For me, VDI is just too expensive to be an option right now.  Why do you think Microsoft hasn’t been singing from the heavens about Remote Desktop Services.  Sure, it’s a messy looking architecture but they know that the PC is here to stay for a long time yet.  The PC is relatively cheap to buy an own.  TCO?  Citrix have screamed about that one since the days of WinFrame and they haven’t managed to convert the world.  Sure, Citrix/Terminal Services is in most organisations but it’s more of an application deployment solution for remote users than a PC replacement solution.

And let’s not forget that the PC paradigm is changing.  It’s expected that the ownership of the business PC will change from the business to the end user.  In fact it’s already happening.  The business can still retain some sort of control and protect itself using things like NAP and port access control.

Feel free to post a comment on what you think about what’s going to happen.

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4 comments so far

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  1. Do you think it would be possible to somehow connect by first booting to a sort of a ‘Splashtop’ solution and thereby bypassing any big OS, that way the terminal would have minimal hardware, it wouldnt even need a hard disk, just a tiny ssd or compact flash card?

    • There’s talk of new devides of this kind being launched. Terminals started off being like this but certain functionality that could be upgraded is required, e.g. access TS Gateway or Citrix Gateway and utlise EasyPrint or ThinPrint. So a (thin) OS of some kind is needed on the client and needs to be maintained, thus disposing of the cost of ownership argument for VDI.

  2. Hi Aidan,
    You make a lot of good points. The cost of decent thin clients is too high compared to cheap PC’s. Also the upgrade possibilities are plain bad. You just have to wait way to long before you can even get for RDP client 6.0/6.1 in case you want to use some really great stuff like TS Gateway. Also, they are not as flexible as PC’s. When the needs of the company change you’re stuck. I’ve been playing with the idea of using a Live Migration cluster with W2K8R2 datacenter edition for virtualizing desktops. W2K8R2 makes a great Desktop ;-) Even old completely locked down (GPO) XP’s or new very cheap ones with Windows 7, that auto launch the RDP client and can’t run anything else could be used as “thin clients”. We tried using Ubuntu but the users didn’t like the experience and no TS Gateway support . The licensing should be OK. Not a question MS likes to answer I think. The Hyper-V PM’s at Tech Ed Berlin found it an interesting idea, just another way to use Hyper-V for them. Virtualized desktop has some potential for us, especially for business continuity and low level PC needs but the cost /benefit is not very good due to licensing and some aspects are missing from the solution.

    Cheers,

    Didier

    • Interesting ideas there Didier. There’s no VECD requirement for the server and if you run Datacenter on the host then why not log users into the freely licensed servers. Very clever!

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