VDI Challenges and How to Solve Them
In the first blog in this series, we talked about the main advantages of VDI and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS), including centralized management, improved security, and ability to support bring-your-own-device (BYOD). This time, I want to focus on common problems that arise with VDI. We’ll look at three big VDI challenges—poor user experience, solution complexity, and high costs.
Challenge 1: Poor User Experience
There’s nothing that torpedoes a VDI project faster than failure to deliver a great user experience. There are a couple of facets to this: addressing user requirements and delivering optimal performance.
Your VDI project won’t succeed if you don’t understand your end-users’ requirements. Get your user communities involved up front to make sure you address their needs. Good communication and managing expectations are critical. Delivering blazing performance won’t make much difference if your VDI solution fails to deliver important functionality, and yet a third of VDI projects are deficient in this regard.
Another important reality is that almost half of VDI projects have performance issues. While performance needs may seem clear cut, once again there’s no replacement for understanding the user perspective. Responsive desktops and applications are important, but may not be the only thing that matters. For example, in healthcare settings where clinicians move from location to location, login time is a performance metric with high visibility and impact. And don’t overlook the value of predictability. If your VDI service delivers great performance most of the time, but with occasional unexpected slowdowns, user satisfaction will suffer.
The administrative experience also plays a role in your company’s overall satisfaction with a VDI solution. If the administration is complex, your team is likely to make mistakes that affect users and may delay or avoid performing necessary tasks like patches and upgrades. Ideally, you don’t want VDI admins to be completely dependent on server, storage, and networking teams for infrastructure-related tasks.
Challenge 2: Solution Complexity
There are a number of factors that contribute to the complexity of a VDI project. Satisfying stringent feature and performance requirements plays a role, and so does addressing availability and security needs. Ensuring that a large VDI environment can fail over quickly can consume a lot of time and effort for planning, testing, and monitoring.
VDI projects often take months or even years to go from proof of concept to full production. Architecting a solution that will scale as you add seats adds complexity, and there are significant risks associated with getting the design wrong. A VDI environment that’s under-spec’d will create big headaches later; a design that’s too large increases upfront costs.
Building your VDI environment from scratch using traditional three-tier infrastructure with separate servers, networks, and storage also contributes to complexity. It can be challenging to balance bandwidth and capacity requirements across servers, storage systems, and networks to avoid unexpected bottlenecks, and you’ll need multiple tools to manage and monitor the various resource silos.
Challenge 3: High Costs
I’ve already touched on many of the elements that add to the cost of a VDI project. Stringent feature and performance requirements from end-users, high availability needs, and extended deployment, scaling, and upgrade cycles all play a role.
If you build your VDI environment using traditional infrastructure, over-provisioning the environment is almost a necessity. Storage systems must be over-provisioned initially to ensure that you’ll be able to support more seats later, adding significantly to your upfront costs. Even with over-provisioning, it can be difficult to predict when storage will become a bottleneck, leading to a flood of trouble tickets and unanticipated costs for scaling and re-architecting.
A traditional environment also adds management complexity that increases OpEx and slows down upgrades, troubleshooting, and other important tasks as requests pass from team to team.
Finally, if you’re going to run a hypervisor like VMware ESXi, the licensing costs for a large VDI installation add up quickly, becoming a significant percentage of your overall costs.
Addressing VDI Challenges with HCI
Since this is a Nutanix blog, it won’t surprise you that we believe that hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a key part of the solution to these VDI challenges—but there are good reasons for that. VDI was the original “killer app” for HCI. If you ask a VDI expert, or approach any infrastructure vendor (including one that sells both HCI and traditional solutions) they are likely to steer you to HCI for your VDI project. In the next blog in this series, we will explain some of the features of Nutanix HCI that make it particularly well suited for VDI.
It’s also worth asking the question whether Desktop-as-a-Service can solve these VDI challenges. The short answer to that question is “yes,” assuming you’ve done your homework to understand user requirements. We will dig into DaaS in more depth later in this series.