User needs and the impact on TS/VDI.

After reading Daniel Feller’s post today on ‘VDI or TS’ I started thinking about one of the main arguments people have to justify VDI:  flexibility to deliver a unique desktop/environment to the user.

The more I think about this, the less sense it makes to me. When we start to think about tools, procedures, regulations and a bunch more things that surround us every single day and that are part of our lives, we can find a common thing/trend there: everything has a set of rules that we all, as a society, accept and follow. Several without questioning.

Before we go ahead let’s take a look at certain examples. When driving, if you see a red light you stop. You never questioned why the light is red and not bright pink. Plus the traffic authorities will not really change the red/yellow/green traffic light at the corner of your house just because you prefer Purple/Bibbidy Bobbidy Blue/Crushed Mellon. Nope. Once you get your license you accept the fact these are the colors and that they have a certain meaning that you will follow.

Same for your bank. You know they are usually opened from 9:30am to 4:30pm and that you cannot withdrawn $100,000 in cash on that ATM close to your place. Again, the bank is not really going to acommodate your needs to be able to withdrawn $1,000 in one dollar bills just because you think it is more efficient for you if you could do that. Or open at 2:00am because your wife prefers that.

Once you go through all the scenarions/things that are around us it is easy to understand the reason why we have regulations in place like SoX, HIPAA, etc. To have a common set of rules/procedures that guarantee certain things will always be there, done in a certain way and so on.

Why IT services these days are seen in a different way I have no clue. What I mean here is simple. IT is always being pushed by users to deliver something extra because every freaking user these days has a different, unique requirement!

Why does someone need his icons shown using Hattenschleisse fonts instead of Arial? Why does he need a picture of his three year old single testicule three legged albino camel as a background instead of the corporate logo? You get the picture.

Why users cannot live with a common, standard set of tools? I do understand Engineering needs different tools than Accounting and I am fine with that. But why do we need to support twenty five different Accounting departments in a company that has 25 users in the Accounting department? Is there really a need, in a business environment, to give every single person a unique set of tools so they can work? Cannot they work with something called a ‘common toolset’?

TS can deliver that extremely well, assuming a common toolset is there and is enforced. At several places we deployed SBC the users had to adapt to the working environment and not the other way around.

I can definitely see the value on VDI and several reasons to use it. But the simple reason ‘TS cannot address all the user requirements we have at our company’ is giant, MEGA BS to me. Why all the sudden users do not need to follow rules on their working environment the same way they do for everything else in life?

If that was not the case we would have traffic lights with pink, purple and brown lights just because your grandma likes and wants it.

As proven over the years, IT goes through cycles, always coming back to something that was done years ago. I am sure that will be the case here.

Once this generation of architects/admins/consultants creating these ‘do-whatever-you-want’ business enviroments are gone, I am certain someone down the road will realize how much of a PITA these are to manage and we will get back to the old days where you would get the right tool for the job and nothing else.

Before you ask, no, I do not hate users. But I cannot understand why you need a pink keyboard matching a yellow mouse.

At the end, are these valid user needs or simply user ‘whinning/bitching’? Ask that yourself the next time you are asked to deploy XenDesktop.

Cheers.

CR

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Old news becoming new?

Not sure if I am in rant mode here or not. Plus note that I do respect Citrix and everything they have done over the years and I am the first one to say they have some great, kick ass things.

But since Harry Labana posted this on his blog the Twitter world and the blogsphere went crazy like if this was the greatest thing ever since OS X (yes I am a fanboy before you ask). Even Brian posted about it today.

I saw several comments/articles on how this is great, how it will now open so many doors at several customers and so on. And that is what pissed me off.

It may be a great thing IF you are a Citrix customer AND you need this for some reason. And for the simple fact that Citrix, now apparently starting to move again after milking the cow for years with MetaFrame/Presentation Server/XenApp/WhateverItIsToday. Awesome.

Non-Citrix customers had access to this several years ago. So what?

From a technology standpoint this is VERY old news. Back in 2004 we were playing with the idea of publishing XP desktops (and applications) within our WTSPortal (one of the products we had at Terminal-Services.NET, later acquired by 2X Software Ltd). We even got this working on a multi-user version of XP Professional. Later on Provision Networks brought that to the market. Again, years ago.

So here Citrix is not doing anything new. Why no one thought this was a big deal when everyone else released this years ago and now are all having goosebumps is beyond me. I want to read way more exciting and better things on the Citrix blogs. And on yours too Brian. 🙂

Catching up != Innovating.

CR

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My take on VDI.

In the past year if I could get a penny everytime I heard the word VDI I would not be here writing this post anymore. In the Server Based Computing/Virtualization industry, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is “the” topic and as mentioned, has been like that for a while.

Some people in the industry (mostly the Microsoft MVPs for RDS – the new name for Terminal Services) do know what I think but as not everyone is part of that group, here you have my take on this:

1. I am not sure why people like Brian and others do not compare VDI to real desktops. In a typical VDI scenario virtual machines running a desktop OS like Windows XP or Windows Vista are accessed by users using some sort of protocol (RDP, ICA, etc). For example Citrix XenDesktop uses ICA and Provision Networks/Quest uses RDP. But today, with client hypervisors (a local hypervisor installed on your PC) you can run all these virtual machines directly on your own PC and not on a remote server. So VDI in a way is evolving. In the future I do see users using their VMs over ICA/RDP when at work and when disconnected, using them locally through a local hypervisor. Get back to the office and all changes are replicated. Cool.

If we think about how many companies simply skipped the whole Server Based Computing thing, that never ran any application or desktop off a centralized TS/Citrix farm and how many companies are just now taking off the ground I do think it is simply natural their IT guys willing to compare how a VDI solution compares to a full blown desktop (real desktops/fat clients – whatever name you want) approach. Especially now that local hypervisors can be seen in the wild.

Again, these companies simply missed the SBC bandwagon. Like several companies I know that never deployed Windows 2000. Jumped straight from NT 4.0 Domains to Windows Server 2003 Active Directory. For them, whatever Microsoft introduced or did with Windows 2000 was completely irrelevant. The same applies here. These companies never cared about SBC/TS/Citrix. They are/were a full blown PC/Desktop shop. Now that virtualization is becoming widespread they simply want to know how a regular PC environment compares to a virtualized one. Dead simple. And I can totally see and understand their reasons.

2. So far, there is always some performance hit associated with VDI. The problem here is simple. If you are trying today to deploy a VDI solution for running Windows 2000 or XP, with a 4-7 years old application, chances are scalability will not be that bad (meaning you will be able to squeeze quite a lot of users in one big server, reducing the cost per user at the end). But if you are always trying to keep up with technology and if your company always goes for the latest and greatest, this means you may be going down the road with Windows 7 with Office 2009 sometime soon. And probably your applications will be written relying on the .NET Framework 4.0. Yes, I do know these are not out today. But keep in mind that with cheap hardware comes lazy programmers and huge frameworks. Long gone are the days when we had to squeeze as much performance as we could out of a DOS app because an extra 1MB of RAM on each PC would break the company.

I cannot see .NET ZZ getting leaner or faster; same for Office 20XX, Windows YY (replace X, Y and Z with any integer). They may look faster but that is the result of much faster hardware with much more memory. That is why I came up with the ‘Claudio’s Law’ like in the ‘Moore’s Law’ (that old dude from Intel): “The time it takes for Windows XXX to boot and load Office YYY on its current generation hardware is constant” and you can try that for yourself. Get an old PC (PII 266MHz with 64MB RAM) with Windows 98 and try loading Office 97. Now fast forward to today and get a typical machine running Windows Vista with Office 2007 and do the same. The time it takes to load is virtually the same!

Where do I want to go with all this? If you keep running the latest and greatest I cannot see VDI being a scalable solution. It is a solution for sure but if scalability is not there it means a much higher cost per user as you cannot run hundreds of VMs in a single box. Plus if you want to do it properly, you will not be hosting 100s of users on cheap hardware. You will go for the good stuff. And good stuff comes at a price. An 8-CPU box with 32 cores and 64GB RAM, RAID and fast hard disks does not come cheap. And now, in a recession, I am 100% sure costs will decide the fate of several IT initiatives out there. The bottom line in many places will be indeed this: money.

Unless Microsoft/Intel/God comes up with a new way of doing things that will allow us to run 100 VMs on the above hardware, all running the latest and greatest OS and apps, I cannot see this changing.

3. Local Hypervisor. Ok this adds quite a bit to the picture as now you can run the VM directly on your PC, without sharing resources with anyone else. Sounds great, doesn’t it? The problem here is there are several OS enhancements that are now dependant on the hardware. For example, Snow Leopard and Windows 7 are now offloading certain tasks to the GPU. Several other components on the OS rely on that low level direct access to the hardware. When a hypervisor layer is present, as of today, several of these enhancements are lost. This means a performance hit. Of course there are several benefits with that approach (i.e. your ‘master images’ become hardware independent, running pretty much anywhere, as long as the hypervisor is there) but in an age where users can go to Best Buy and get a decent, fast PC for under $600, are they willing to work on something that is slower (potentially much slower depending how OSs evolve) than what they have at home? If hardware manufacturers start implementing changes that will allow things like a virtual GPU and so on that will probably be minimized/eliminated and VDI may take off.

But then we may break the whole cycle of software/hardware Wintel upgrades and the industry behind that. Companies like Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc do rely on users and companies buying and replacing computers every couple years. So at the end, what impact such approach will have in the industry? I do know we, human beings, always adapt and I am sure these companies would have to adapt to survive the new way of doing things.

Well that is what I think. As you can see I do not think VDI is bad, ugly, beautiful or great. I do think it has its own merits, it is capable of solving problems other approaches may not work well and it is still in its infancy. But I cannot simply see how all its drawbacks/issues/costs will be addressed by 2010. Sorry Brian.

CR

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