Friday, February 20, 2009

VDI's Biggest Challenge

Over the course of the last few months there has been a surge of activity, at least amongst many vendors, in the area of ‘Virtual Desktop’ solutions. In fact it would also be fair to say that there has also been a gentle bubbling of interest in this developing area amongst end user organisations as well. Following numerous conversations with different suppliers of virtual desktop solutions as well as taking note of much research in the area it is clear that the widespread adoption of these systems faces numerous challenges.

And many issues need to be considered by an organisation contemplating adopting a Virtual Desktop approach. Among these the first, and usually considered to be of paramount importance, is the non-trivial question of which of the many approaches to virtualising the desktop will be suitable to the needs of the organisation. Vendors today offer a wide range of solutions which utilise a number of techniques to provide service to the end user. It is clear however that there is not a high level of understanding of the solutions available, and in particular which approach fits which goals. Of even more importance, there is research evidence which suggests that IT departments have significant difficulty identifying suitable business cases to justify their adoption.

Pressing as these obstacles are, it is my opinion that many other challenges surpass these in terms of inhibiting the adoption of virtual desktop systems in numerous enterprises. The most challenging of these to address is the small matter of changing the culture and perception that users have created around ‘their PCs’.

In particular it is clear that very many individuals regard the laptop that they use for business as ‘their PC’ even when it patently belongs to the business. As such they feel free to customise the machine in any way they wish irrespective of any impact this may have on the machine's ability to operate effectively as a tool of the business. The only time when this possessive behaviour abates, albeit for a limited time, is when a problem arises. Then the machine instantly devolves back to being a standard piece of equipment for which IT naturally carries responsibility and the concomitant burden of repair.

Until now, many attempts to proactively manage PCs have met with considerable user resistance as such moves have been perceived to be steps towards removing the users’ ability to ‘customise’ their machines. For VDI initiatives (with the term VDI now becoming something of a shorthand for ‘Virtual Desktop’ initiatives or infrastructure) to succeed it will be essential to ensure that users do not consider such projects to be methods to rein in their ‘freedom’, as has frequently been the case in many previous PC management initiatives. Thus it is essential that user conversations focus on areas that they may see as having benefits for them beyond simply raising the quality of service and availability experienced by PC users. In fact it is recommended that steps be taken, if at all possible, to find ways to get prospective users to actually desire new VDI driven systems.

If this can be achieved, I see strong potential for many virtual desktop solutions to be deployed in anger over the course of the next few years, in organisations of all sizes. The secret will be to ensure that communications with potential users not only point out the strong business cases that may exist for their introduction but also take the time to find some ‘personal’ benefits that may be attractive to users. Getting the users on board early will smooth the path and reduce resistance, possibly by significant orders of magnitude.

It will also be interesting to see if the current harsh economic climate coupled with the rapid development of solution offerings in the virtual desktop space will see an acceleration of interest in the coming months, perhaps initiated by the potential future consideration of Windows 7 as an enterprise platform. Watch out for fireworks.

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