VDI: Has the time arrived?

Is it time to virtualize and centralize the resources so users can access “the desktop” from anywhere using anything, or does the venerable old workhorse still have a place in the modern organization?

The Experts
Joe Sniado
Joe Sniado

CIO, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services argues that the time for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is now because the technology can help companies deal with BYOD and also contend with natural disasters. View debate

Rob Davis
Rob Davis

Vice President of Information Technology, Atlantic Aviation says not so fast. While the success of server virtualization makes VDI tempting, the latter will effect a much larger group that will challenge your organizational and IT readiness. View debate

Joe Sniado

You bet it has!

Over the past year, two powerful and related forces have influenced Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services’ technology strategy and infrastructure: 1) Hurricane Sandy and 2) the evolution of consumer devices and the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) trend.

These factors have forced S&P to consider how best to support a growing and increasingly global workforce in ways that are cost effective, meet our security standards, and allow us to deliver high-quality credit analysis to markets around the world. One of the key ways S&P has responded has been by embracing Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

S&P’s global headquarters is on the southern tip of Manhattan and directly across the street from the East River. When Hurricane Sandy surged up the East Coast and hit New York City, significant parts of the Financial District were swamped. Our building’s four-level basement flooded almost instantaneously resulting in significant water damage to our lobby, elevators and electrical systems. By the time the clouds parted, we knew we wouldn’t be back for weeks. At the same time, there was very strong demand for our ratings. The third and fourth quarters of 2012 were among the busiest in the bond market following the financial crisis. In short, we couldn’t afford any downtime.

We quickly established that our data centers, including network access, were functioning. However, we had the challenge of ensuring that employees would be able to function effectively while working remotely for an indefinite period of time. We expected VDI would be helpful when we designed our business continuity plans, but what we discovered was that in a crisis this technology can provide significant benefits. 

The Hurricane-related challenges for S&P were large. Several parts of the New York City metropolitan area were without electricity for weeks, and many S&P employees use traditional desktops to analyze proprietary financial data. As such, network and device-level security is more than a priority. It is a necessity. As we sourced and configured laptops for employees, we were reliant on employees leveraging personal devices to deliver our research and analysis. With our VDI deployment, our analysts were able to seamlessly access all of the critical applications they needed and securely issue our credit ratings.

[TEST: Citrix edges VMware and Microsoft in VDI face-off]

In addition to testing our business continuity plans, Hurricane Sandy accelerated our acceptance of the BYOD movement. As employees realized they could productively work from their own devices, they pushed for the freedom to do so. In attempting to reconcile this desire for “form and function,” we saw co-workers trying to find apps for their tablets and smartphones that provide office-type functionality. From a business perspective, the desire of staff to put diverse and non-standard devices on the network set off alarm bells. 

Since these devices are used for both personal and business needs, we needed barriers to segment personal and business content. We also needed to deal with the security challenges posed by BYOD devices, since they increase the number of entry points to our network for cyber-attacks, data leakage and/or viruses. 

In addition to security concerns, allowing employees to operate in a BYOD environment has the potential to increase operating costs and complexity. Without VDI, our Quality Assurance staff would have to ensure interoperability of multiple operating system, applications and devices. It would be very expensive to support multiple platforms without virtualization, which creates a standard that can be developed upon and tested.  

When the total cost-of-ownership is fully calculated, including the benefits of enhanced security, lower support and development costs, and increased productivity, I believe the best way to enable staff and to efficiently manage this rapidly changing environment is to leverage VDI on a broad set of devices.

Company-owned equipment will continue to play an important role for our company and will be the main mode of operation for the majority of our employees. However in our pursuit of balancing cost-effective solutions, with the evolving expectations for our employees, S&P has found VDI an increasing powerful tool.

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, part of McGraw Hill Financial (NYSE: MHFI), is the world's leading provider of independent credit risk research and benchmarks. We publish more than a million credit ratings on debt issued by sovereign, municipal, corporate and financial sector entities. With over 1,400 credit analysts in 23 countries, and more than 150 years' experience of assessing credit risk, we offer a unique combination of global coverage and local insight. Our research and opinions about relative credit risk provide market participants with information and independent benchmarks that help to support the growth of transparent, liquid debt markets worldwide.


Rob Davis

Probably not!

Utopia has arrived. No more dealing with troublesome PCs, virus outbreaks, patching headaches.

“My PC is corrupt.” “No problem,” answers the helpdesk; click, restore, problem resolved.

Has the Virtual Desktop solved all our desktop provisioning and support issues? After the success of server virtualization, could VDI really be that easy?

[ALSO: The network impact of VDI]

“My PC is corrupt.” “No problem,” answers the helpdesk; click, restore, problem resolved.

Has the Virtual Desktop solved all our desktop provisioning and support issues? After the success of server virtualization, could VDI really be that easy?

Not quite. Before jumping into the new virtual pool, understand that server virtualization only touched a small group -- IT. With VDI you are touching the whole organization, and that requires examining your organizational and IT readiness. Most are not truly ready.

Organizational Readiness

Any technology should be bounced against an organization’s readiness to utilize that tech. I’ve seen some great technologies fail, not because the technology was unable to deliver, but because the organization was not ready or able to adopt its abilities. VDI is no exception. Consider the following as it relates to VDI and your organization:

* User mix: Not all users are equal. A customer service representative will likely not care or even know they are working on a virtual desktop, but a more sophisticated end user has more complex desktop requirements. Are those users ready for a more controlled environment?

Sure, you can run a separate OS on a laptop and require the user to remote to their “official” desktop, but that can fundamentally change the way a user works. If you are pushing for BYOD, this might be a great option, but it introduces several complexities. For example: how many of your desktop users require a disconnected experience? How will they access required files and applications when disconnected?

* Application footprint: The application mix of your organization is another item to consider. Let’s take a simple one: cloud-based applications. Wait, what? Sure, you’re progressive and moved email to the cloud, so it can be accessed from anywhere. But to now open Outlook, a user must remote to their desktop on the network. Hmmm. “They can use Web Outlook.” OK, but how will users open attachments? “I’ll install Office”… sounds like you are supporting a desktop. This is a simple example, and can be overcome, but you have to examine what applications your business is using and how the user functions within those applications.

IT Readiness

Since you run this department, you have a little more control over this readiness component. Consider the following when looking inward and assessing your ability to deliver on VDI.

* Infrastructure: If your users’ desktops are going to be virtual and running centrally on a server farm, you will have transferred that support from one location to another. If you are a single location, this is probably not an issue, as all users and support staff are in the same building. However, most organizations have some sort of distributed environment, which raises staffing questions.

And if you have remote locations, your WAN reliability requirements just shot way up as your desktop will not run without connectivity. Do you have failover circuits in place? Are they automated, or do they require manual intervention? An application talking over the WAN can tolerate a higher degree of network latency and be somewhat transparent to the user; a VDI solution will likely just drop, requiring the user to log back in.

* Cost: True, with VDI you don’t have to purchase a full desktop, but you still need a connecting device for your Virtual Desktop. BYOD aside, that device, along with the required OS license, is going to cost about the same as a standard enterprise desktop. Add in your cost for the servers needed to support your solution, and the costs savings in that sexy brochure are evaporating quickly.

* Disaster Recovery: With VDI, your disaster recovery just got a little more complex. Along with the nightly migration of server VM’s and data, you have to contend with the required hardware and bandwidth to move your VDI stack to your secondary location. If your DR solution is cloud based, your OpEx just went up. If you own your DR site, your CapEx just went up. DR procedures now must cover desktop recovery along side server recovery.

Add it all up and ask yourself, are you ready? Only you can answer that question, but most likely you’ll have to dig a little deeper to reach that VDI readiness factor. If you are dead set on doing VDI, start in an environment likely to have lower readiness barriers, such as a corporate office. VDI has its place, but is that place your place?

Atlantic Aviation is the largest fixed-base operator in the U.S., providing a wide range of services for general aviation aircraft owners and pilots. With more than 60 locations, Atlantic offers premier services, including a dedicated concierge, state-of-the-art facilities and a generous rewards program. Find out how Atlantic’s personal service, quality and safety standards make it the industry leader at www.AtlanticAviation.com.

Want more Tech Debates? Check out our archive page


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022