Can you avoid the VDI Tax?

Benjamin Franklin wrote ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. You may have read our article about how it is possible to cheat death in Save Lives, implement VDI. But death is a mere bagatelle in these austere times in comparison to taxes.

In the early days of virtualisation it was considered there was a  “tax” on performance of virtualised devices. For server virtualisation, such performance concerns were largely resolved for with enhancements such as better hardware and virtualisation code. Yet, the newer desktop virtualisation still suffers from a number of similar “taxes”. Tax in terms of user experience, tax in terms of additional complexity and tax in terms of additional licenses.

With Microsoft reporting that Windows 7 VDI environments can be up to 11% more expensive than Windows 7 with traditional desktops when will desktop virtualisation give you a return on investment? Will performance taxes, license taxes and complexity taxes mean that desktop virtualisation will never be more than a niche service regardless of the clamour from VDI vendors hailing 2011 as the year for VDI as they did in 2010?

Or, is it that the taxation can be accommodated, all be it without short term gains because your business will benefit from the  representation of a user’s application set not simply from their cubicle’s monitor?

Location, Location, Location

Joe’s article highlights that desktop virtualisation can make the need for “the office” less. In times of snow/flood/fire/your-need-to-chillax this is good – difficult to assign a figure to admittedly but not impossible and it should not be ignored. Desktop virtualisation is a better enabler for hotelling, for work-at-home, for reducing the desktop/user ratio and as a strategy for efficiently setting up new offices – perhaps because of growth, or relocation due to the first set of offices being under six feet of water. Having virutalisation as part of your desktop strategy gives you options for reducing the company spend on real estate and that can be a sum that can be measured.

In Europe one of the biggest costs for an organisation is office space. If you’ve not visited the “old countries” are indeed mainly castles, or ruins of castles or battle fields – it’s a wonder we can build houses to be honest. Office space is at a premium. Reduce the need for expensive office space and you save considerable expenditure. In addition, from a user perspective they gain a more flexible work/life balance, the opportunity for increased productivity increases.

I was working with an organisation recently who brought in virtualised desktops not for better management, but for increased flexibility. The project realised significant savings

  • Laptop devices were willingly handed back – cost of supplying and supporting a user with that device was £3000/year. Cost of a virtualised desktop alternative? £760/year.
  • There were 1000 users of laptops; this is now  less than 300.
  • There are three times more ‘virtual desktop’ users than, while this may appear more costly…
  • The organisation had a policy of 8/10 desktops/users . A more flexible desktop access assisted in reducing the number of physical buildings from three to one.
  • When the snows hit in the UK attendance on site was down to <10% – yet the remote access service was fully utilised – overall productivity likely dipped to 60-70%

VDI may well be quoted as being 11% more expensive to manage than desktops and it is expensive to implement. But, desktop virtualisation is more than VDI and offers a business a range of cost savings that somehow, somewhere have been dropped off peoples’ radar on the focus of “it manages your desktops better”.

Garbage in garbage out?

Let’s be clear, desktop virtualisation will in no way shape or form magically “manage your desktops better” .  “But I can update one image and instantly everyone is updated” you may say and the reply would be “yes, but the impact of getting that change wrong is now far larger”. Implement VDI without starting with the user requirements and you can hose productivity through lack of functionality and poor user experience as printing, USB drive access, remote display and application compatibility combine in a perfect storm.

VDI isn’t an inexpensive undertaking, or a simple one . Server virtualisation “got away with this” to an extent as many companies migrated their old hardware *onto* new hardware, virtualised in the process then decommissioned the original hardware. Happy happy. Joy joy.  If you used the same model for desktops, I’d move my physical desktop into the datacentre…then…erm.. I’d have a monitor and keyboard. I could try stuffing the two connectors into the ethernet port for a while. Then I’d need a desktop device…and a new ethernet port.

This is where the likes of Mokafive, Ringcube, VirtualComputer and Wanova  have very interesting offerings. Their solutions offer “VDI” with a little “i”: they have back-end infrastructure costs that are far smaller and less complex than the likes of VMWare’s View and Citrix’s XenDesktop. A further advantage is that they make it possible to support a range of devices with a similar image, in the same way.  And not only deploy and manage the image,  but maintain and recover the all important and most valuable, user data.

While the solutions offer greater scope for ‘standard’ devices – such as laptops and PCs, server hosted desktop virtualisation helps you to break down the walls of an office and the reliance on corporate owned desktop devices. You can securely extend the boundaries of where, when and how people can work allowing you to help deliver savings in reduced spend on physical space, and open up users’ ability to increased productivity and reduce the complexity and cost of providing external access to your resources to users, partners and customers.

Take SBC a stage further with offerings from vendors such as Desktone you are capable of providing an application workspace without any “i” at all. Flexible not only in terms of location and device but in capacity and availability.

If its not a management saving, what savings can it bring?

I’m not suggesting that there can’t be a desktop management saving. Desktop virtualization does offer the opportunity to introduce better management through centralised control, automatic backups, recoverability, device independence.

A Server Based Computer (SBC) environment (be that Presentation Virtualisation or Server Hosted Virutal Desktops) can give a longer life span to your end-user-devices: SBC doesn’t care if its old. For example, there are tools to let a 386 be a workable thin-client device. A device’s lifespan can go from 3-5 years, to 5-10 years when it is used as a thin-client.

I worked with a company back in 2002 putting in a Citrix MetaFrame solution.. they’re just replacing the desktops rolled out then. Almost 11 years. They’ve upgraded some of the back-end servers in that time. If they’d undertaken a standard desktop replacement policy – they’d have spent in the region of  £650,000 on desktops where in fact they saved around £500,000 in hardware replacement costs by utilising SBC.

Think Bifocally

“The perception is that VDI desktops accessed from thin clients will reduce costs and optimize service desk operations. While VDI may result in savings in overall hardware costs, these savings will be offset by higher software and engineering costs.” said Microsoft to urge you to not to consider the longer term hardware, and power consumption costs but on the closer fact that operationally you’re probably going to need the same amount of people and/or some re-skilling and there’ll be an additional license cost.Of course, we’ll gloss over the fact that with a desktop virtualisation environment you could readily introduce a non-Microsoft software based offering.

Yes desktop virtualisation can be more costly for licenses, yes it can be more complex these things are indeed more taxing. But introducing desktop virtualisation as part of your desktop strategy should be more than the close-up savings that might be generated for the IT  department. It should look longer and more widely at how that spend and change in delivery can help different parts of the business minimise expenditure. Optimise your company’s use of office space, reduce the need to maintain DR sites, open new offices faster and increase in productivity if only because there are fewer people absent through snow-shovelling-induced-heart-attackitis.