It only took a decade, but the tech industry was finally right: 2020 was, in many respects, the long-predicted Year of VDI, the virtual desktop technology that streams business applications and data to end-user computers from a data center. For over a decade, VDI has helped business shift from running applications on employee computers individually to managing and delivering those applications from more centralized server computers.
What Comes After the ‘Year of VDI’?
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 sparked massive adoption of virtual desktop infrastructure. Will this lead these businesses to hybrid cloud?
That phrase – “The Year of VDI” – had become something of a joke amongst tech observers. For the past decade, it seemed that virtual desktop infrastructure made annual appearances on lists of technologies to watch, only to end each year having shown slow and steady growth, rather than explosive adoption.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic forced many industries to adopt widespread remote work last spring, businesses raced to implement the technology at an unprecedented pace and scale.
“With the pandemic and the shift to work-from-home, we saw large organizations suddenly change their thinking about virtual desktops,” said Steven Kaplan, vice president of customer success finance at Nutanix.
“Rather than buying 10,000 new laptops and shipping them to their employees’ homes, many companies shifted their workers to virtual desktop infrastructure. And the vast majority of companies are rethinking their technology strategies looking ahead.”
Now that the long-awaited Year of VDI has come and gone, Kaplan foresees a number of ripple effects on enterprise IT in the years to come.
1. Laggards Race to Catch Up – While VDI has become increasingly commonplace over the past year, it is still by no means universal. According to industry surveys, only around one-in-three organizations currently leverage the technology. Virtual desktops are likely to see continued healthy growth in the coming years, as more companies seek benefits such as a more efficient use of computing resources, centralized management and support, and the ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.
“We work with an independent mortgage company, and when they got the mandate to switch to work-from-home last March, they were able to move 8,000 users to remote work in just two weeks because they already had VDI through Citrix,” Kaplan notes. Various industry estimates peg VDI’s compound annual growth rate at between 11 and 17 percent over the next couple of years.
2. Employers Embrace Flexible Scheduling – Many companies embraced tools that enabled remote work as a way to solve temporary problems caused by the pandemic, but solutions like VDI will still be in place once employees are able to return to the office. Some of these workers might never return at all, and the ones who do will likely expect their employers to leverage these technologies to give them more flexibility over when, how, and where they work.
“We’re already seeing the impacts of COVID and work-from-home changing the shape of cities, particularly in Silicon Valley,” Kaplan said. “Organizations that previously required their employees to be on-site are hiring people from all over the world and setting them up on virtual desktops.”
3. IT Shops Boost Performance Through Infrastructure – One of the reasons it took VDI so long to truly break through is because many organizations have had poor experiences running virtual desktops on traditional, three-tier data center infrastructure. Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a natural fit for VDI due to its inherent scalability. In fact, users who access virtual desktops over HCI can actually expect to see an improvement in performance over that of their physical desktops, rather than degradation.
Here’s a story Kaplan never tires of telling: One business executive was adamantly against VDI, due to a past negative experience, and so the IT department covertly swapped in a thin client accessing a virtual desktop without her knowledge. When they eventually told the executive that the performance she was enjoying was due to VDI, her hostility toward the technology vanished.
“We don’t recommend deception as a best practice,” Kaplan said with a laugh. “But it shows that, when VDI is done right, users don’t even notice the difference.”
4. Consolidation Lowers Costs – A shift to VDI through hyperconvergence doesn’t just boost performance and enable remote work. It can also lead to a significant reduction in expenses through consolidation of resources. Rather than deploying overpowered physical laptops to employees who will largely use them to create documents and connect to the web, organizations can pool their resources in the data center (or the public cloud), allowing them to deliver a consistent user experience at a much lower cost.
“We worked with a global bank, which was previously outsourcing its Citrix VDI and running it on three-tier infrastructure, and it was expensive and not working very well,” Kaplan notes. “Moving to HCI slashed their costs.”
5. Scalable Infrastructure Drives Hybrid Cloud – Speaking of tech trends that seem perpetually poised to break through: Observers have been predicting the rise of hybrid cloud and multicloud approaches to IT for years. And while these models have, indeed, enjoyed continued growth, some organizations have been held back by their infrastructure. The cloud-like scalability of HCI provides a path for more companies to place individual workloads where they make the most sense.
“The same way 2020 was the Year of VDI, 2021 could be the Year of Hybrid Cloud,” Kaplan said.
6. IT Becomes a Business Center – As organizations embrace solutions that simplify and centralize management, their IT departments can spend less of their time on routine support and more time innovating.
“With tools like VDI, HCI and hybrid cloud in place, companies can spend more of their IT resources helping business units to meet their goals, and less time keeping the lights on in the datacenter,” Kaplan said.
Related blog post: 10 Reasons Nutanix is the Best Platform for Citrix VDI
Calvin Hennick is a contributing writer. His work appears in BizTech, Engineering Inc., The Boston Globe Magazine and elsewhere. He is also the author of Once More to the Rodeo: A Memoir. Follow him on Twitter @CalvinHennick.
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