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As virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions have matured over the last few years, their potential enterprise benefits have become increasingly obvious to IT organizations. However, in many cases end users and non-technical managers identify VDI and thin client as the same thing, which, depending on their previous thin client experience, can lead to the benefits of VDI architecture being dismissed out of hand.

VDI and thin client are not the same thing

The maturing of enterprise-grade VDI solutions has meant that most enterprise IT operations, whether they have deployed VDI are not, are keenly aware of the significant benefits that are achievable for managing end-user computing services. When the endpoint becomes a utility device, with no locally installed applications or information, data is more secure, risk is reduced, and desktop services can be more easily, cheaply, and reliably delivered.

In recent years, a number of key performance limitations related to graphics, storage, and profile management have been addressed by VDI vendors, so that it is now routine to deliver solutions that match or exceed the expectations of users used to working with "their" PC on the desk. However, although the technical limitations have largely been addressed, there often remains cultural reluctance to deploy, or re-deploy, VDI based on past experiences.

Many earlier VDI deployments were closely linked to the physical provision of thin clients on end-users' desks, and apart from specialist use cases requiring tightly locked-down hardware configurations, the general user experience was one of disappointment when compared to the traditional PC.

The reason for this is simple economies of scale. In theory, thin client hardware should be cheaper than a comparable PC, primarily due to the lack of key components such as a hard drive. In reality, this is exceeded by the difference in market size for thin clients versus PCs. With a requirement for back-end infrastructure, thin clients are never going to be produced at the scale of utility home PCs. Furthermore, the cutthroat economics of the PC industry continue to drive the costs of commodity (but relatively powerful) PCs ever lower. As niche products, thin clients cost as much or more than a "better specified" PC and are often harder to upgrade, for example when more memory is required. This often leads to underwhelmed thin client end users, who covet their colleagues' traditional "fat" PC, culminating in poor satisfaction ratings for the IT service organization.

In recent conversations it has become clear that a significant number of those end users associate the limitations of the thin client with the concept of VDI, and are reluctant to endorse such a solution as part of their organization’s future strategy. Given the undoubted efficiency and effectiveness benefits that are possible through a well-planned VDI deployment, IT organizations need to be highly attuned to internal politics and the pre-existing assumptions of their target user group. Understanding and actively marketing to overcome misconceptions will therefore be essential to gaining support for a viable end-user strategy that leverages VDI.


Further reading

The Viability of VDI in 2015, IT0022-000281 (January 2015)


Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Public Sector

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