Blog post

The Reality of Virtual Desktops

By Gunnar Berger | April 17, 2012 | 8 Comments

Disclaimer: Gartner analysts use their blogs to share their personal views and opinions on subjects close to their hearts.

Those that know me know that I’ve worked on a virtual desktop as my primary desktop for the past couple of years. I believe very firmly that if you are going to talk about a certain topic, you must live that topic. I’ve gone through many of the same pains that others have gone through but after all this time, I can say that I’m very positive on where the technology is now, and what I see coming down the pipe.

I realize that a lot of people out there speak very negatively about virtual desktops, and for good reason, from a technical stand point virtual desktops are often used where other technologies like Server Based Computing (SBC) could do the job just as easily and at less expense. While these people speak negatively on the topic the fact of the matter is virtual desktops are a rapid growing market. In fact Gartner predicts 8-10% market penetration by 2015; those are huge numbers. Yet, even with this rise of virtual desktops there are still a lot of naysayers out there and I think I’ve figured out the root of why they are so negative: they are applying traditional IT methodology at a time when we are breaking from traditional IT practices.

I believe firmly that IT is a service. I’ve been a manager for a good part of my career and I stress that every user is a client and that as an IT department we need to treat our clients as if they are the reasons we get our paychecks: because the fact is they are! This means we don’t treat them as a number, but as an individual. When possible we give these users more than just what they need, rather we try to deliver on what they want. I feel that if the typical IT person were to run the company’s cafeteria it would only serve water and saltines, the mentality being that if that is enough for an employee to survive off of, then they’ve met their goal. I for one believe that I’m a unique person, and although I work at a company with 5000+ employees, I believe I have unique wants and needs. An IT department that tries to treat me as just a number doesn’t understand me, doesn’t understand my needs, and as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t value me as an employee.

An employee is valuable. I’ve spent the majority of my life as a consultant or a manager, or both; and I know the value of an employee. I know that giving in on small policies, such as allowing a user to put a picture of their child on their desktop wallpaper, affects morale. I’ve learned some of my best lessons by listening to my users instead of giving the user what I think is best for them. In my opinion, this is something that a unique desktop, such as a virtual desktop, gives to an employee. A sense of ownership, a sense of “this is your computer” and you can connect to that computer anywhere you want to work, on any device you want to work on. This empowerment of the employee gives them a sense that IT is listening to what they want, and in essence gets IT out of the way and lets the user work the way they want to work.

I believe that virtual desktops are gaining traction not because they are the best technical choice, in many use cases they aren’t, but because virtual desktops bring benefits to the employee that are hard to measure. SBC can deliver, and under a great many use cases I fully support SBC. Virtual desktops may be over used from a technical stand point, but primarily I believe they are over used because businesses are finding value that they can’t measure and just feel virtual desktops are a better fit due to the company culture.

From everything I’ve seen at Gartner thus far, virtual desktops are wildly popular and although many of these companies could be saving money using a different technology they have chosen to use a technology that many users embrace, not despise. I think these companies see the value in the technology, and even more so, see the value in the employee, and how much easier it is to deploy a solution that employees embrace.

What do you think?


Follow me on Twitter: @gunnarwb

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  • Tal Klein says:

    I’m glad you’re at Gartner, Gunnar.

    “I believe that virtual desktops are gaining traction not because they are the best technical choice, in many use cases they aren’t, but because virtual desktops bring benefits to the employee that are hard to measure.”

    Boom. That’s it. That’s my point.

    People using VDI buzz as a catalyst to have conversations about the state of IT’s architecture, security, and responsibility to end-users = Good Thing.

    People buying VDI under the guide of it fixing IT’s architecture, security, and responsibility to end-users = Bad Thing.

    “Will a VDI desktop fulfill the needs of my various employee use cases?”
    “Will I still need to support my employee’s end-points after transitioning to VDI?”
    “What is the impact of a compromised VDI desktop on my most sensitive corporate assets?”

  • This is definitely a totally very different perspective. It takes away making assessments based only on TCO and ROI.

    The best part of the article for me is “I believe that virtual desktops are gaining traction not because they are the best technical choice, in many use cases they aren’t, but because virtual desktops bring benefits to the employee that are hard to measure”.

    Yes, you are indeed right. The benefits may be hard to measure. We should start listening more in IT; listen to your clients demands.

    Their wants may also be as important as their needs.

  • Guise Bule says:

    Good article Gunnar,

    I concur that use of virtual desktops is on the rise and set to boom and its not just about VDI, its about client-side hypervisors, its about desktops-as-a-service, its about BYOD, it about security and virtual desktops mean a whole lot of things to different people.

    I honestly do not think these naysayers and their attacks on on virtual desktop infrastructures actually have a point, as you say its about applying traditional IT methodology at a time when we are breaking from traditional IT practices, they are throwbacks who fear the future.

    Naysayers are protecting traditional revenue streams, all they really have to say is “SBC can do that” or ‘VDI is right but only for very specialized use cases”.

    I also think the naysayers are being naive in their attempts to control the conversation around use of virtual desktops and their applications, why not let the market and users decide ?

    Different people are asking different questions about virtual desktops and the answers all lead in different directions, the important thing is that people are taking these new virtual desktop technologies and finding that they add value to their businesses.

    The virtual desktop space is smart, it is full of talent and every day it grows stronger and shines a little brighter.

    I feel strongly that if licensing restrictions eased up around the use of real desktop OS’s in virtualized environments, especially for the SMB, then we would see use of the virtual desktop flourish.

    The world is tired of SBC and Microsofts stifling of innovation, it clamors for a virtual desktop and understands that cramming hundreds of users onto a persistent server OS image is a recipe for security disaster in a multi-tenant DaaS world.

    Security trumps all argument in an age of botnets, cyber espoinage and cyber crime, we need to begin to shut down some of the open hatches beginning with the desktop, the place we conduct our business and stay in touch with our networks.

    Non-persistent server-side and client-side virtual desktops give us a way of shutting some of the holes in our desktops, through which the bad guys reach in and steal our stuff, the guys at Bromium are working on their own solution to achieve the same end.

    Its not all about VDI, the virtual desktop space is a diverse space, full of different approaches, this VDI the rest of the naysayers believe in died some time ago, they look backwards rather than forwards and lay old accusations at our doorsteps.

    I honestly do not know why the naysayers keep attacking VDI and DaaS, I can only imagine they fear the future.

    Out with the old and in with the new I say.

    And Tal please stop attacking a business you are not involved or operational in, you are not a virtual desktop expert, despite being a marketing wallah for Citrix and your are not involved in DaaS enough to dismiss it as aaS.

    I get it you have a security driven desktop virt product coming out soon that will not be server based, but its honestly no reason to keep bashing VDI with your tired old blurb.

    This Virtual Desktop house is big enough for us all to live in, stop throwing stones please.

  • Tal Klein says:

    Femi wrote: “Their (end-users) wants may also be as important as their needs.”

    Very astutely stated. I wholeheartedly agree. This consideration should be front and center in every IT decision that impacts end-user computing.

  • Vishal Ganeriwala says:

    @Gunnar – Spot on. Thanks for highlighting the 3 letter acronym back
    (not the VDI but SBC)

    you had me at ” SBC can deliver, and under a great many use cases I fully support SBC. ”

    I think most customers don’t even know that SBC is an option. Education needs to happen and happen fast.

  • tyler says:

    Agree! Go cloud and hosted virtual desktops.

  • Gunnar,

    I agree completely, though would add that VDI also gives the warm fuzzies to administrators who don’t have to deal with the working around the limitations of a server OS that wasn’t designed for multiple desktop clients.

    I personally am not an engineer – but the top guy I know in the space is my brother, Alan, who was our senior engineer at RYNO (the Citrix Partner of the Year for the US in 2000), technical editor of the First Official Citrix Guide and architect and lead implementer for the first complete SBC implementation for a Fortune 1000 company (ABM Industries).

    Alan is a principal in a small professional services company now, but completely abandoned the XenApp/TS model a couple of years ago and only will implement XenDesktop which he loves. When my former partner recently reached out to Alan for help with a XenApp deployment, Alan declined saying, “Yeah, sorry about that. I think I would rather eat my own liver than engineer a new XenApp deployment.”

  • Ali L. says:

    Interesting article Gunnar. You have explained it very well.

    Just to add a little more from my experience – Apart from the reduction in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and other cost related benefits.

    Now with virtual desktops we can centralize updates at the remote location; continuous data backup and synchronization means compliance is now an easier task. Moreover, HVDs provide companies with a ready-made disaster recovery (DR) strategy to get their desktops up and running quickly after any disaster. And with virtual desktops we can access our complete personal PC desktop experience from anywhere, using any device, including iPads, Macbooks, tablets and other mobile devices, as well as our existing desktops, laptops and thin clients; we can also access both Microsoft Windows and Linux-based operating systems on our devices.

    Bottom-line: with HVD, we are not only reducing the costs of managing IT, but are also expanding the reach of our organization by making our employees more mobile and responsive.

    The days of IT professionals marching from computer to computer performing the same tasks on multiple PCs are thankfully over. [equals: less waste in time, and more productivity]