The ROI of a virtual desktop infrastructure is more than money saved

The virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI, architecture is making strides in the enterprise, promising business agility and business continuity, not just savings.

With server virtualization well under way in most enterprises, the CIOs who attended the recent VMworld 2010 conference turned their attention to the next item on the agenda: virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), an architecture that promises to increase business agility, provide a more secure computing environment and cut costs.

Despite some critics' assertions that VDI adds costs instead of cutting them, in terms of increased storage and data center space, those attending the show had numbers in hand to demonstrate real-world cost reductions.

"Managing the desktop is just too expensive," said Tim Barnes, director of desktop services at the Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), who took part in a panel of customers of Wyse Technology Inc.'s thin clients. "Pulling the desktop back to the data center for security and management is the way to go," he said. CIBC's IT staff currently manages 50,000 clients and plans to virtualize 20,000 of them over the next three to four years. It has virtualized 2,000 servers already. In doing so, CIBC believes it will save at least 10% to 15% on operational costs in its IT budget, he added.

A virtual desktop infrastructure can do the same for many types of organizations, according to Mark Margevicius, vice president and research director at analyst firm Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn. "When you add up the four types of costs associated with desktop computing -- capital costs, technical support costs, administrative costs and end-user operational costs -- 40% to 50% are affiliated with the end user," Margevicius said. "With VDI, you may spend more on capex[capital expenditure], but the technical and end-user costs go down," he said. "[Based on Gartner research], we've seen a 95% reduction of [support] calls from end users with VDI."

Savings are just part of the VDI bargain

Such savings may be the impetus for corporations' moving to a virtual desktop infrastructure, but VDI has other benefits, according to several technology executives who attended the VMworld 2010 conference. For one thing, VDI is a green environment, requiring only 50 W of electricity per client, as opposed to 300 W per PC. Like the client/server environment before it, VDI brings new costs; but over time, it will likewise increase productivity, said Wes Baker, virtualization architect at Jewelry Television Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn., which sells gemstones on television and online.

VDI is differentiated, not by the platform but by services you can access on it. Fundamentally, it's about what gets delivered, not the device it gets delivered on.

James Ainslie, CTO, SMMT Online (Pty) Ltd.

Waten Suzuki, vice president of the cloud computing group at Softbank Corp. in Tokyo, praised VDI's "complete, paperless, secure environment." Softbank, a mobile communications provider and large iPhone and iPad distributor, sought a 40% to 50% reduction in costs when it stopped using PCs and moved to a completely thin-client iPad desktop, but has achieved only a 15% to 20% reduction because of the expense of Microsoft licenses, he said.

A virtual desktop infrastructure increases business agility as well, the executives said: It makes it easier to bring in a merger or acquisition, and business continuity is inherent (due in part to end-user device flexibility and the ability to swap out software easily to other devices and locations). And the remote connectivity benefits are numerous. "VDI is differentiated, not by the platform but by services you can access on it. Fundamentally, it's about what gets delivered, not the device it gets delivered on," said James Ainslie, chief technology officer at SMMT Online (Pty) Ltd., an organization based in Johannesburg, South Africa, that is involved in a project to install thin clients on buses to give Internet access to South African and Zambian students in kindergarten through grade 12.

The Palais de Chine, a hotel in Taipei, Taiwan, that CTO David Chang says earns a sixth star for the quality of its computerized environment, put thin clients in guest rooms for rich media delivery from a private server farm. "Next year, at a conference like this, no one will show up, they'll just stay in the hotel," he cracked, implying that people would participate from the comfort of their rooms.

A virtual desktop infrastructure also enables unified communications, such as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, in thin clients, which is critical for remote areas like much of the African continent. Presently, VDI typically exists in call centers with agents on the phone, Gartner's Margevicius said. Jewelry Television's Baker began three years ago to virtualize a 300-seat call center using thin clients with a private cloud. In the future, the company plans to use VDI over a wide area network.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

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