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Will Virtual Desktops ever arrive?

It has already happened.

Here’s the problem (and it took me quite some time to come to the realisation): all these anti-VDI blogs have been written by people who have had a poor experience of VDI.  Looking at our setup and our demo platform, everyone who tests a demo desktop always reports how fast the performance is.  We are Citrix based and as much as everyone thinks setting it up is easy, I would say well over 95% of Citrix deployments aren’t set up correctly.  Take the example of HDX2; you must have at least 10 components correctly configured for Flash Redirection to work as intended, any misalignment and it simply demonstrates substandard performance, I can’t find full documentation online about this, we’ve had to figure it out the hard way.

Anti-VDI blogs have been written by people who have had a poor experience of VDI.

I’ve been reading similar blogs now for some time.  My business – VESK – doubled its user base in 2013.  I am not writing this response because I part own a hosted VDI company, I’m saying it because I am an investor in technology that works.  And VDI is now taking off.  DaaS is a different matter, it’s just MS apps so I’ll let Guise Bule [CEO of TuCloud] answer that.  Guise has a large US user base so DaaS for him has been more about security.  I know personally, I couldn’t sell DaaS.  My customers want an entire HVD (Hosted Virtual Desktop) solution, all their data, apps, desktops, servers – i.e. PaaS.  A different market entirely.

I couldn’t sell DaaS.  My customers want an entire HVD (Hosted Virtual Desktop) solution, all their data, apps, desktops, servers – i.e. PaaS.  A different market entirely.

Now look at the larger providers; Amazon are now offering Workspaces, VMWare are offering Desktone, Microsoft will be offering desktops soon.  Many of the large telcos in Europe have now acquired desktop providers (such as Colt’s acquisition of ThinkGrid and Telefonica’s acquisition of EyeOS) or have their own desktop offering.  The larger providers were waiting to see if we succeeded, which we have, so they are now offering it themselves, their desktop offerings will evolve.

The simple fact of the matter is that as of January 2014; 90% of business desktops consist of one form of MS Windows.  Mainly Windows 7, 8 and XP.  Even SaaS apps are sitting on an Operating System somewhere either Windows or Unix based.  Do you remember in older versions of Citrix Presentation Server or MetaFrame, what would happen if you were running a SaaS app and you pressed SHIFT+F2?  The application would minimise and you would see the application sitting on a Windows desktop.

[pullquote]We have also published Linux desktops, cheaper than Windows.  BUT they didn’t take off – end users like Windows. [/pullquote]We have also published Linux desktops, cheaper than Windows.  BUT they didn’t take off – end users like Windows.  As much as people love to berate Microsoft, there’s no arguing their desktop Operating System’s longevity and strength.  They of course make mistakes; Windows ME & Windows 8, but there’s always a solid OS in production, right now that’s Windows 7 (in 2015 it will be Windows 9) and Windows 2008 R2 for session based desktop computing.

Imagine how long it would take to change hundreds of millions of computer users (2Bn PC users now) from saving a file as a .doc / .docx and use something else?  Even if there was a big take-up it would take years and years.  Most businesses use Microsoft Office, firstly because their staff know how to use it and secondly, because it’s a productive and useful tool.  We seem to overlook this fact because of the bespoke apps we use and the relationships we have with those vendors.

PC sales have stopped slumping for the first time in a long time, this is in part due to Windows XP reaching EOL.  Of course PC sales aren’t going to grow like they were, you now have a myriad of thin clients, amazing new tablets and laptops that have a 30 hour battery life.  These devices put less emphasis on the PC, that’s all that’s happening here; dilution of the workstation thanks to evolution of the device.

I would not want to write a lengthy tender or a blog or update an Excel spreadsheet on my iPad.

People are just working on a number of different devices.  But as I have always said;  if you want to be productive, if you want to socially interact (in the physical sense) with your work colleagues (for many businesses this is essential); you need to be at your desk, in front of a large screen, with a user interface that is at least as good as a mouse and keyboard.  I would not want to write a lengthy tender or a blog or update an Excel spreadsheet on my iPad.  iPads are Consumer devices, unless you don’t mind having users being disturbed by their social apps.  I don’t know many businesses that use iPads as their Primary device.  Of course in some cases iPads (sorry for picking on the iPad here, I am referring to most handheld devices) are great for business, but the majority of use cases, Business users need a computer and desktop (be that thin client or PC) from where to work.  Most people I know have now realised this.  Mobile access will continue to increase.  Microsoft will continue to innovate.

SaaS apps are great, you could run a thin client with single sign-on and access SaaS only.  But in reality, there’s a reason why FireFox is a 30MB download and Windows is a 2GB download.  Enough said I think, this sentence should invoke a separate blog 🙂

There’s a reason why FireFox is a 30MB download and Windows is a 2GB download.

So now we have ascertained that we need a DESKTOP computer, what else do we need?  A desktop.  And if the technology allows for the desktop to be accessed in equal measure remotely as it does locally, then why not remotely if the desktop can be backed up, managed and then added into a network (aka the data centre) which contains all of your applications, data, user profiles and servers ?

HVD didn’t take off in 2000 with Terminal Services because Internet connectivity was not as reliable and the TS stack would show you a simple multi-coloured JPG image by streaming 1 inch horizontal strips to your occipital lobe one fractal row at a time.  The technology has now changed, with HDX 3D Pro you can stream AutoCad online, the AppStore now has the latest version of Citrix Receiver available for free download allowing a Windows desktop and some seriously powerful Windows / Unix-based applications to run on your iPad which would never be possible with the iPad natively, we can run your desktops from 1U servers that contain half TB of RAM and 64 processor cores, the list goes on.

Now consider the security of tier 4 datacentres, access via 2048-bit SSL (soon to be upgraded to quantum cryptography), hourly snapshots, real-time DR, you get the picture.  Another important point about VDI is that many private VDI deployments have failed because the curators miscalculate the realistic investment required, hence the reason public and hybrid clouds can be leveraged by SME’s without having to go through the whole learning curve of building their own.

With HDX 3D Pro you can stream AutoCad online [and] the AppStore now has the latest version of Citrix Receiver available for free download allowing some seriously powerful Windows-based applications to run on your iPad.

I used to run an IT business offering support for local desktops and servers.  I know how profitable that can be.  We used to make over 90% profit on more than 90% of our service agreements.  VESK on the other hand is lucky to make 10-15% profit at the end of the year.  The margins are lower, so it’s not quite as appealing, another reason for some of these anti-VDI blogs.  Out of all the techies on the planet, there seem to be a disproportionately unreasonable amount who write about this.  The fact is that there haven’t been enough GOOD implementations.  VESK has over 400 customers, we have zero outbound sales, our new business derives from word of mouth.

So the proof is in the pudding.  VDI is taking off, if the big boys are offering it now it will only be a matter of time before a good % of desktops are simply stored in the datacentre, rather than on a local workstation.  I call that Hosted VDI or HVD.

Of course there are other technologies emerging, other options.  But if you want to train your staff in using SaaS only apps, upgrade all legacy apps and somehow forget that half your apps integrate with one another; be that Exchange integration or Windows integration then the other option is local servers and local desktops.  And for those of you who want to stay local, if you have nothing to gain from moving to the cloud, I say- stay local.  If you have the in-house expertise to manage your applications, if you don’t have an awful lot of remote working, if you’re happy with your in-house / outsourced IT team, my advice is “if it’s not broken then don’t fix it”.

And for those of you who want to stay local, if you have nothing to gain from moving to the cloud, I say- stay local.

A pushy salesman may tell you if you don’t backup your data properly 90% of businesses go out of business blah blah blah but I would say; don’t be pushed into anything.  I would only ever sell our solution if it’s right for your business.  It can be expensive so if you’re happy with your local servers, a few installed apps, a few SaaS apps, local desktops and local support and you’re happy with the reliability, then there’s no need to fix it.

If you find you’re constantly having to upgrade software, having regular downtime because you don’t have the expertise to manage Exchange, have a poor experience when accessing your data and applications remotely, then consider moving to the cloud.

So to answer the question, yes we have arrived.  Every HVD provider that I know, is growing.  User experience is always improving.  The big players have started to offer desktops, because they understood that they would have to.  With billions of people connected online, there will always be negative write-ups, as with any form of technology.  Especially one that is more complex and generates a lower profit margin than typical IT models for the Service Provider.  So yes, we have already arrived.  Reading this blog back in 2 years time it will seem obvious.