Sunday, 21 December 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Citrix...

VDI that is. Technically that should say 'terminal services', but I had to get in a Christmas themed post title before the 25th :)

Remember back when VDI reached that tipping point in the enterprise? It was hailed as offering unprecedented levels of flexibility. Hailed as the slayer of terminal server based environments with their draconian mandatory profiles and restricted application sets. And biggest of all, hailed as finally providing us with a unified environment for application packaging, support and delivery. And so we all embarked on this VDI journey. But of course, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. And having travelled this road for a while now, a sense of déjà vu is creeping in.

Yes, it is decidedly feeling a lot like Citrix. In an effort to drive down costs, the VDI restrictions and caveats are coming out of the woodwork. Scheduled desktop "refreshes", locking down desktop functionality in the name of stopping writes to the system drive, redirecting profiles to other volumes, squeezing a common set of required applications into a base 'master' template and disallowing application installs, etc etc. Software solutions are being ushered in to address these issues (brokers, app virtualisation, user environment virtualisation) - all for a premium of course. The same way it happened with Terminal Services / Citrix. We need to buy Terminal Server CALs from Microsoft, Citrix CAL's from Citrix, pay additional for enterprise features like useful load balancing, even more for decent reporting capabilities, then we need to do something about profile management, we need separate packaging standards, there are separate support teams, separate application compatibility and supportability issues, etc etc.

If we continue to slap all these restrictions and add all these infrastructure / software (ie cost) requirements on top of VDI, we run the risk of turning it into the very thing we were trying to get away from in the first place. The problem is without them, VDI doesn't provide a cost effective solution for _general desktop replacement in well connected environments_ yet. I'll emphasize the important bit in that sentence, in bold caps so I'm not misunderstood. _GENERAL DESKTOP REPLACEMENT IN WELL CONNECTED ENVIRONMENTS_. There are of course loads of other use cases where VDI makes great sense. But a desktop replacement for the average office worker in a well connected environment ain't one of them.

And the desktop requirements for the average office worker is on the rise. In this new world of communication, IM based voice and video is coming to the fore. And yet none of the big players in the VDI space have a solution for universal USB redirection or high quality bi-directional audio/video to remote machines. But does it even make sense to develop such things? Either way, you still have a requirement for local compute resources and a local operating environment in which these devices can be used. Surely it makes more sense to use that local machine for the minimal desktop and applications that use this hardware (VOIP clients, etc), and remote all the other apps into the physical machine from somewhere else?

Maybe we'd be better off parking those plans for VDI world domination for the moment, and focusing on next generation application delivery and user environment virtualisation for our current desktop infrastructure (both physical and virtual). Once those things are in place, we will be in a much better position to assess just how much sense VDI really makes as a general desktop replacement.