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Life without VDI sucks

Posted on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 | 9 Comments

There was a discussion on Twitter about what desktop OS to run, due to someone getting a new machine from their IT department. Of course I had to ask, why not use a VM as your desktop with View/VDI? The reason cited to not run a VM was that it is a powerful workstation so it may as well be used to its potential. Silly IT department, they just planted an island of resource into their environment.

This got me lamenting over the loss of my VDI environment and how much it sucks living without it. So I thought I would drop a quick post to say why, after all, we should all eat our own dog food. I will leave aside the business IT reasons and simply talk as a user who has had to move backwards.

Why does life without VDI sucks? I will give you my top four reasons.

Single setup. 

In the three months without VDI I have configured two complete desktop environments. Once on a temporary laptop and a second on my current one. You can’t underestimate the time it takes to configure a machine just the way you like it, even when you have an SOE and profiles. I use many mechanisms which reduce this effort (such as FoxMarks to sync bookmarks) but it still takes time to remember and install all of those little things which I use to make myself productive (eg FreeMind). Now I hope this laptop lasts but I am sure I am going to be building another desktop within the next 12 months. There is also the decommissioning time, I needed to tidy up the old laptop I was returning, removing files and uninstalling apps. Sure IT may reimage the laptop but I figure its my responsibility to clear commercial data off it that was sitting on my account, that the next person may not have access to. To me the whole connection of my desktop environment to a single piece of hardware is just a huge waste of effort and productivity. I figure I lost at least two full days of work. I miss my VDI because I know I am going to have to configure everything again at some stage.
Power galore. 
I miss the speed of my VDI environment. Sure my new laptop has 2G of RAM and my VDI only had 1G allocated but to be honest everything used to run much faster. My VM ran in the data center on some decent hardware adjacent to all of the secondary systems needed like mail, Intranets, back office applications, file servers. Everything was lickety split fast. Also the processor was faster, I was getting my slice of a 3Ghz or more core where as now I am getting all of a 1.9Ghz core (I have a ultra portable laptop). The user experience of a slice of a 3Ghz processor is better than all of a 1.9Ghz. When the IT guys made changes to the back end (I think there was a round of RAM upgrades) to be honest I never noticed. A side issue on power is battery consumption. With my old laptop I had a good battery life because very little was going on in the machine and I did not care if it was the latest or greatest device. Thankfully as my new machine is an Ultraportable it too has a good battery life, about 5 hours, but if I was on VDI I bet I could stretch that out an hour or two more, that would be nice. I miss the power of my VDI.
Access anywhere any time. 
Now I must take my laptop home every day! If I want to work on things at night which I always do its all on the laptop. With VDI I really did not care what machine I was using, as long as I had a network connection. I had a Wyse V10L on my desk with dual monitors, I had my laptop for around the office and at client sites, and I had the Mac laptop at home that the family uses. If I was working at my desk and there was a meeting I would stand up, grab my powered off laptop and head to the meeting room. Once there I would boot and connect back to my desktop with the VDM client, in doing this the desktop session was removed from the thin client and presented to the laptop. I would not need to close any applications, suspend the machine (and worry about saving files just in case). Likewise when I went out of the office or headed home, I would just leave all my working documents open and reconnect remotely. My shutdown procedure at night was to flick the power switch on the wall and hence turn off every device. This made me ultra green. Did you know those powered speakers on your desk use the same amount of power turned off or on, full volume or none, well mine did, I measured everything on my desk once. It was funny to watch others who were not on VDI in the morning power on their machine (because you have to shut them down over night to save power right) and then go get a cup of coffee because it always took ages to boot and log in. Me, I just flicked the power switch on the wall, the thin client booted in a few seconds, connect the session and there was my desktop space from where I finished the night before. It was also great to be able to use the Mac at home. I could be doing something on the Mac such as playing with the family photos of our last 4WD trip or mapping it in my GPS software (Windows only but Fusion made it work a treat, especially with Unity) and have my work desktop all in front of me. Lastly, if I had to borrow another person’s machine in a meeting all I needed to do was access my desktop and I had everything, it did not happen a lot, but when I need to it was a real life saver. I even used my machine from VMworld 08 in Las Vegas back to Sydney, Australia. I miss the access flexibility of my VDI.
Peace of mind.
I don’t rest as easy as I used to. I now have all these files on my laptop. I have to keep a full copy locally as when remotely connected its just to slow to access them. I also don’t want to manage which ones I do and don’t have locally, that’s just a headache so it’s everything. Now I have to think about backup and data security. I need to sync my files back to a server somewhere on a regular basis and you know we all hate backup. Plus I have started to run some encryption software in the event my machine gets lost or stolen. There are many sensitive documents from clients on my laptop and I just don’t want to put myself or my employer in a bad position. Of course this is all just more work, I have to manage all this and type more passwords in. It feels like going backwards. I miss the peace of mind my VDI environment gave me in regards to data protection and security.
What is better now, because I do need to be fair? Not much. I do a lot more work whilst traveling so I am using the 3G access a lot more. VDI over 3G did have a slight delay, but it was workable. Flash, or should I say media presented through flash was trouble under VDI. Youtube and other online video always caused me grief and I would sometimes need to drop out of VDI to the local machine to watch things, but I lived with it expecting this solved in the first half of 09.

It’s worth mentioning what’s not different. I ran USB devices, multi media, sync'd and charged my mobile phone, dual monitor, RSA tokens, no app gave me issues. It really was a full and rich desktop experience.

So how long did I run it for, was this just an experiment for a week? I ran VDI for all of my business and just about all of my personal usage (apart from the Mac) since about the time of the VDM 2.0 beta. I ran it with all my required apps, which is essentially all the MS Office suite including things like Visio. I would consider myself a mid level power user.

The disclaimer for the sceptics. One, my job is to tell people how wonderful virtualisation and things like VDI are, however I hope you can see that this was my personal experience and not some marketing fluff. The people in cubicles around me are sick of my lamenting on this topic. Second, this is not a comment on the IT dept at my current employer or anything to do with them; because they would reject and deny anything I said because I am absolutely not allowed to make any comment what so ever about them or anything that might be even slightly related to them, in fact its best if they don’t know I exist.

There you have it. All I can say is, life without VDI sucks. And this is why my laptop has this sticker proudly displayed on it, so whenever I am it in a meeting, everyone knows how both my machine and I feel about it!

Comments:9

  1. excellent post Rodos, and sums up my sentiments exactly

    and I want that Sticker :D

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  2. Point 1 is exactly what I was referring too a while back with regards to the "reset" feature of VMware View not being practical for 95% of companies because app and profile virtualisation is not widely deployed in 95% of companies. Sounds like your current employer is included in that majority :(

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  3. ... and I don't just want one of those stickers... I _need_ one :)

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  4. I want that sticker as well... :)

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  5. Great post! Nice to hear some personal real life commentary instead of the marketing stories...

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  6. Anonymous12:44 am

    Great post. I've been working with VDI/View alot as of late, and am planning on doing the same as you had done.

    And seriously...where did you get the sticker?

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  7. Thanks for Great post! I've just started to implemented VDI and since you mentioned Wyse V10L thin client - I'd love to have some more juicy details about installation / performance and general experience as administrator

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  8. Anonymous9:10 am

    good stuff. Rodos - I'm curious what you think about bare-metal client side hypervisors like the one from Virtual Computer the ones Citrix and VMware are building?

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  9. On client side hypervisors like CVP from VMware I am keen. Its a key element to moving to broad adoption, closer to that high percentage, that enterprises require.

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