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Why VDI is finally coming of age

It's been a long time coming, but recent events have brought VDI deployments to the fore.

Like many modern companies, TELUS International, the global arm of $15 billion Canadian telco TELUS, had been considering allowing more of its frontline employees to work from home.

Culturally, remote work hadn't fully penetrated corporate thinking or priorities. Indeed, the company was rather proud to show off its stylish offices and operations in 20 countries around the world.

"For our frontline team members, we were not a stay-at-home organization at all," says Jim Radzicki, TELUS International's CTO, who is based in Dana Point, California. "It's not that we didn't want to be or that we didn't think our technology could support remote work. We just didn't feel that approach aligned well with how our customers were requesting we deliver services."

Then came March 17, 2020. That's the date the government of the Philippines, where TELUS International bases nearly 30 percent of its almost 50,000 employees, gave companies 48 hours to shutter offices because of COVID-19. For Radzicki, the order represented a huge challenge—but an opportunity as well.

"I told my wife, 'This is going to be a make-or-break moment where we have to rapidly adopt a work-from-home solution,'" Radzicki recalls. "We didn't know how long these lockdowns would last, so having a strategy in place to keep the business running and people gainfully employed throughout this crisis was going to be critical."

 

To achieve this daunting task, TELUS International extended existing investments in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and invested in cloud VDI to enable many of its suddenly remote frontline employees in the Philippines to securely, seamlessly, and successfully access corporate network resources within the week. Then, anticipating similar lockdowns in other countries where the company operates, it extended the program worldwide.

"We had already been using VDI to enable employees and some of our clients to work remotely, but COVID-19 really propelled us ahead 10 years—a decade was compressed into two months," says Radzicki. "All of the red tape we might have had to go through to roll out this technology just got thrown out and our teams said, "Hey, we know it's possible—let's go do it.'"

VDI adoption growing

TELUS International is just one of many companies considering or actually deploying VDI technologies to prepare for the strong possibility that more people will want to work remotely post-pandemic.

Indeed, after decades of hanging around as a promising but niche technology, a recent survey by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) and Workspot, a desktop infrastructure company, found 88 percent of respondents were more eager to access VDI and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) images from multiple devices.

Citrix, a digital workspace platform vendor, defines VDI as the hosting of desktop environments on a central server in which specific desktop images run within virtual machines (VMs) and are then delivered to end clients over a network. Those endpoints may be PCs or other devices, like tablets or thin-client terminals. The virtual desktops live within VMs on a centralized server.

 

According to Mark Bowker, a senior analyst at ESG, VDI works. But widespread adoption never arrived because too many decision-makers believed employees couldn't be productive working remotely or they were concerned about the cost, control, and cybersecurity implications of the technology, he says.

"Since COVID-19, we've seen that changing, with traditional VDI vendors reporting massive spikes in not only interest but actual acquisition of VDI licenses or technology," Bowker says. "COVID is not responsible for the birth of VDI, but it's taken this unfortunate event to show companies there are better ways to consistently manage, secure, and deliver desktop experiences to users."

Amitabh Sinha, CEO of Workspot, says when companies were forced to close offices, one of the greatest discoveries they made about VDI was how quickly it enabled them to switch to a 100 percent remote infrastructure.

"We have customers that were able to do this in a day, and cost wasn't so much of a concern because they knew they had to do it," Sinha says. "If you have 700 people who can't come to work, you could lose millions of dollars a day. In the grand scheme of things, spending a few hundred thousand dollars to add licenses and avoid that isn't such a massive stretch for many companies."

The case for colocation

Sinha says some global companies will invariably choose to roll out their own desktop infrastructure but frequently run into performance or network latency challenges that end up giving VDI a bad rap.

"Most companies operate VDI from only one or two data centers and everybody around the world is coming into them, so you can experience really bad performance," he warns. "VDI workloads are also complex because they often involve a variety of audio, video, and graphic elements and require terabytes of storage. These are not small projects. I mean, people spend nine months architecting them, nine months implementing them, and then struggle with the operational complexity of it all."

By embracing a Software-as-a-Service model, however, Amitabh says companies can offload that complexity to a qualified third party that will architect, deploy, and operate the VDI.

"DaaS solutions that leverage the public cloud can reduce on-premises infrastructure investment and management complexity, while also reducing latency to give end users great performance," he says.

Analysts predict advantages such as these will fuel a rise in cloud-based VDI adoption over the next several years. In fact, a new Allied Market Research report projects the market will nearly triple from $3.65 billion in 2016 to $10.15 billion by 2023.

Packaged VDI solutions

Some vendors are hoping to usher that along by offering packaged solutions to help companies test drive or quickly deploy VDI for specific use cases.

"We essentially built a complete end-to-end model where we handle the design, implementation, operation, and management of everything, and they only pay for what they use for the first six months," says Daniel Williams, a strategic alliances executive with HPE GreenLake. "After that point, if they decide to stick with it, it would revert to a full contract. We wanted to offer companies in this global crisis a VDI option that is low risk, low entry point, and can help keep everyone working and productive for the immediate future."

Williams says companies can also use the pre-configured VDI offerings to determine what kind of desktop infrastructure they will need to support a more long-term remote workforce plan. Numerous recent studies indicate many companies are leaning toward the idea of allowing most of their previously office-bound employees to work remotely after the pandemic ends.

If true, Williams points out, many customers will look to customize solutions for their long-term needs. "As opposed to smaller companies just trying to survive this crisis, many of our large enterprise customers are looking two or three years down the road, anticipating more remote workforces, and asking us to help customize our offerings for tens of thousands of users," Williams notes.

TELUS International's Radzicki says his company now sees VDI as a potentially long-term play as well.

"We have miles to go because there are so many legacy applications and other things that still need to be served up on the desktop. But I could see it becoming standard for us," he says. "For a remote work strategy, we don't need different technologies everywhere. It makes more sense to leverage a single VDI environment that doesn't care whether your desktop is remote or in an office."

VDI: At a glance

  • Events have forced business to reevaluate their use of VDI.
  • Rapid deplyoment of VDI has proved to be possible.
  • Packaged solutions can offer a flexible response for VDI needs.

Related:

HPE supports growing demand for remote workforce rollouts in wake of COVID-19 impact

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.