Five tips to virtual desktop ROI

Server virtualization made IT rock stars by improving uptime and saving the organization some serious dollars. So now it is time to look at how to leverage this expertise for the desktop.

When many shops initially set up their virtual infrastructure the tools for delivering a true virtual desktop experience to users -- say nothing of achieving ROI -- were woefully underdeveloped. The tools and systems today are a different story. They deliver a real desktop experience to both high-maintenance and regular users alike.

This means a zero client solution -- which unlike traditional thin clients, have no CPU, no memory, no operating system, no drivers, no software and no moving parts -- provides such a positive experience that virtual desktop users don't even realize their "computer" is living in the data center. Another piece of good news: For those with a robust virtual infrastructure in place, virtualizing the desktop can be as simple as purchasing a simple zero client solution that provides everything out of the box.

OUTLOOK: Virtual desktops are all the rage

Using existing storage, processor and memory, an enterprise deploying a zero client VDI solution has to migrate 20-25 physical desktops to start seeing ROI. After that, the returns start accelerating rapidly. The challenge is making the case for the first 20-25.

Here are five things to factor into the cost of switching from PCs to a zero client VDI solution:

1. Hardware failures: Physical desktops have components that will fail if deployed for long enough. An organization that deploys a zero client VDI solution can remove those headaches and costs from their budget. Some VDI devices use solid-state components instead of hard drives that can seize up, and don't have fans to fail or complex motherboards to short circuit. When migrating 25-plus desktops into a virtual environment, the man-hours and lost user productivity for warranty repairs become some serious dollars.

2. Upgrade costs: If you have spent any time administering a virtual environment, you know that upgrading the processor or memory on an existing virtual machine consists of a couple of mouse clicks (as long as you have the resources available on the hosts themselves), versus ordering upgrades and taking the time to go out to individual desktops. This cost can be significantly reduced in a VDI environment.

VIRTUALIZATION WARS: VMware vs. Hyper-V vs. XenServer vs. KVM

3. Managing and supporting end users: With VDI, the days of connecting to a physical desktop through a myriad of clients are gone. The way you administer your virtual servers is the way you administer your virtual desktops. Just open your hypervisor console and go! Admins can interact with the boot sequence of any desktop from the comfort of their office. Issues can be resolved in minutes rather than hours and frees up valuable cycles from your support staff. Take into account the cost for this time along with the tools for remote access to add to the ROI.

4. Scalability: Unless an organization has spare physical desktops lying around pre-loaded, deploying a setup for a new user can take hours if not days. Deploying a new virtual desktop is just a matter of deploying a template with all apps pre-loaded. Just rename, add to the environment and associate that VM with the zero client sitting on the desk and requests for a user desktop is done in under 60 minutes. For any kind of large scale deployments, IT can set up 80-plus virtual desktops in one day. Scaling for seasonal or temporary users no longer means having idle physical desktops becoming more obsolete by the passing day. That is a scalable environment that adapts based on the needs of the organization. Faster deployments translate into savings.

5. Speed and performance: With VDI, all substantial network traffic lives within the data center network. The only traffic to a zero client is I/O. That 1GB file a user opens on the file server? It all goes through the data center backbone. Users typically see a noticeable performance increase and network latency is usually greatly reduced. Since many hypervisors manage memory and processor resources much better than individual desktops, users see better performance with fewer resources.

Most organizations have, to one extent or another, bought into virtualization. With the server environment set up, it is now time to leverage that infrastructure out to the end users via VDI. We chose a zero client VDI solution from Pano Logic that brought a true desktop experience to our end users. IT decision makers are weighing all the options regarding their desktop environments, but once the key costs are considered, they will see that savings quickly add up.

Darren Schoen is a small-business technology evangelist, regional trainer for Spiceworks and the director of technology infrastructure at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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