Back in the old days of cloud – half a decade ago now – desktop virtualization was viewed as a precocious harbinger of the kinds of benefits that would come through remote delivery of IT services. And unlike a lot of other cloud technologies that promised new efficiencies sometime in the future, hosted desktop virtualization solutions were available in the here and now, offering centralized desktop management, improved security, flexibility for users in terms of device or location, and optimized resource allocation to organizations that were willing to take the plunge. Adoption rates, however, failed to keep pace with expectations, as early implementations faltered on the triad of cost, complexity and limitation in deployment options.
Fast forward to the present, and the prospects for desktop virtualization have changed considerably. According to a global Gartner survey conducted in the summer of 2013, approximately 60 percent of 329 respondent organizations used some form of desktop virtualization, and of these, 42 percent had deployed server-hosted virtual desktop (SHVD) – a finding that report author Michael Warrilow argued aligns with Gartner forecasts for the hosted virtual desktop’s total installed base. While forecast figures indicate significant market growth (Gartner's forecast for business devices counts approximately 32.5 million SHVD "seats" in 2013, compared with shipment of 500,000 hosted virtual desktop units estimated for 2009), the numbers also suggest considerable room for growth: for 2013, Warrilow has estimated that hosted VDI was installed on 4 percent of all enterprise desktops globally; but also that most organizations which now deploy SHVD do so on a small portion of the desktop fleet (between 10 to 20 percent). Reflecting its confidence in virtual desktop prospects, Gartner has included “Client Cloud Computing” as one of ten top strategic trends for 2015. In the SMB segment, market potential is also apparent: data from a 2014 Techaisle report, for example, indicates that the US SMB market for VDI will grow from just over $100 million in 2011 to nearly $600 million in 2016 (at a CAGR of 41%). At the same time, the report noted that only 21 percent of SMBs are currently aware of VDI technology – a finding that speaks volumes about the prospects for addressing new market segments. Clearly, the tipping point has passed.
For the PC maker exploring alternatives to single focus on an industry that is now threatened by commoditization, the virtual desktop market has much to offer – provided the offering moves beyond hardware sales. As Steve Lalla, VP and GM, Dell Cloud Client-Computing (CCC), explained at a recent Dell Cloud Client-Computing Reviewer’s Day event at the new Dell Solution Centre in Santa Clara, California, the data explosion, growth in the number of user devices, the distributed nature of information today, and increased use of cloud are driving strong growth in the virtual desktop market. But to capitalize on this growth, he argued, requires an evolution of thinking about application and data delivery that is more than “containerization of the PC,” the management of physical devices “which worked for 32 years” but is now incapable of addressing new expectations for cloud-based mobility and BYOD. This more holistic view is an approach that Dell launched in earnest with acquisition of Wyse Technologies in the spring of 2012, and has expanded through subsequent development of its Cloud-Client Computing portfolio, and integration of its desktop virtualization products with Dell infrastructure, software and end points to create end-to end solutions for customers. According to Lalla, this solutions orientation is working: Dell claims market share growth of 4.3 percent in Q3 2014 (faster than any other company), and rank as the number one provider in the US, Canada, Mexico and the UK.
So what are the specific tactics in Dell strategy to continue increasing share in this rising market? Essentially, the company is leveraging its broad portfolio of products and services to build comprehensive, end-to-end solutions that address customers’ VDI pain points – adoption hurdles that different companies face as follows:
Cost for VDI is “the elephant in the room,” which Jeff McNaught, executive director marketing and chief strategy officer, Dell Cloud Client-Computing, claimed was formerly approximately double the cost of the infrastructure – including networking – needed to run it. But since January of last year, Dell has made efforts to reduce cost, and demonstrated its progress in a cost analysis for three different implementation scenarios using Citrix’s XenDesktop broker: where there is no data centre infrastructure to leverage, where there is a medium amount of infrastructure, and when there are high levels of data centre infrastructure available (and only thin client needs to be added). Not surprisingly, VDI costs were lowest in the last scenario, but more interestingly, in Dell’s analysis when there is no data centre resource, VDI expense is now closer to equal the infrastructure cost (as opposed to double), and when medium levels of infrastructure are in place, VDI relative costs are even better.
According to McNaught, researchers used conservative assumptions in their analysis in order to “relate to mainstream” data centre operations; however, there are hardware optimization technologies that could improve cost numbers even more. “We think it’s going to get better, not worse,” Lalla commented.
To support this optimization, Dell has built a network of Solution Centres that allow testing, POC and pilots that facilitate client planning around VDI (and other) implementations. Labs, including the Santa Clara facility featured in the video at the end of this article, are connected via a global network to enable remote experimentation – and to allow clients to see what would happen in as real a distributed environment as is possible.
A key issue for VDI adopters has been deployment complexity. To help, Dell has introduced a variety of tools and services to support the planning process. For example, CCC researchers have devoted 100,000 engineering hours to the design and testing of pre-configured solution architectures that may guide implementation. As McNaught explained, Dell began by building architectures for three different solutions (partner certified Citrix, VMware and Microsoft-based deployments), but have now created 16 different architectures that are vertically oriented, size based, or designed to address BYOD or mobility challenges, including the Dell Wyse Datacenter for Virtual Workstations reference architecture, introduced at the event. While these architectures have built with Dell products, they come with a digital tool that allows the user to plug in different vendor hardware products that may pre-exist on site or to support best of breed solutions. Preconfigured architectures, Advisor Tools, Deployment Guides, Solution Templates and Blueprinting services are all aimed at simplifying deployment, and accelerating adoption.
Another way to simplify deployment is the appliance, pre-configured desktop virtualization in a box targeted at organizations, such as the SMB, that either do not have, or would prefer not to dedicate resources to solution deployment and management. Dell’s Wyse Datacenter Appliance XC, for example, provides hyper-converged infrastructure that can easily scale (100 seats at a time), has been optimized to have the maximum number of virtual desktops up and running in a matter of hours, and comes equipped with a variety of tools to ease management, such as Wyse Cloud Client Manager which delivers to IT “over-the-air” or centralized management of corporate and user-owned client devices (including iOS, Android, CCC smartphones and tablets). Management capabilities include automated determination of the number of apps available to users, management of several personal devices, including lock down and remote wipe, and the creation of app stores with policies around user access to different applications.
On the software front, Dell has also worked to remove complexity in the “fourth broker,” its Wyse vWorkspace, which Kelly Craig, product manager, claimed is “simple to install and use.” Announced at the event, vWorkspace version 8.5 was designed so that the desktop team as opposed to the server team, IT specialist or consultant could install and manage the application: the software features “role-based implementation” for simple or advanced implementation, and comes equipped with quick start wizards that make a lot of assumptions on behalf of the user. According to Craig, the solution scales to work with as few as three and as many as one million users, which are assigned flexible profiles that enable or restrict access to corporate assets based on “who, how, what and where,” and thousands of desktops can be deployed in under an hour.
Limitation in deployment options.
For customers looking to deploy virtual desktop, Dell boasts a range of technologies – Wyse clients, Wyse software and Wyse data centre solutions that can be combined to serve DIY clients, those interested in building with support and operating the solution in-house, as well as clients looking for delivery-as-a-service. CCC offers five cloud/desktop virtualization models, including hypervisor VDI, shared, remote desktop session hosting, server, desktop and application streaming, Workspace-as-a-Service and WSM virtualization for Windows applications. Citing pilots/ROBO kits; data centre appliances; solution architectures; WaaS and managed Services and custom solutions, McNaught claims Dell has built more solution delivery options in this area than any other vendor.
Dell’s CCC team has designed hero solutions for organizations wishing to run Citrix, Microsoft, VMware desktop virtualization or new Dell software announced this past December – Wyse vWorkspace 8.5 high-performance desktop virtualization software, which allows Dell to offer an end-to-end solution that includes the VDI connection broker software and one point of contact for support. To broaden access to desktops, the company also announced its “Freezer” technology, which enables delivery of apps through a browser and works with any HTML.5 capable device.
In terms of hardware, Dell is able to leverage the Wyse portfolio of thin clients, zero clients (made up entirely of silicon with no software), mobile thin clients, and cloud desktops, such as the diskless PC which features low energy requirements. At the Reviewers event, the company introduced the industry’s first dual-core and quad-core zero client and thin client family for users needing more power, which will enable high performance VDI that can address the needs of whole new groups of power users, such as engineers. These devices run on the Wyse Thin OS, a multiple (Microsoft and Linux) support operating system that was designed for single purpose (to be a thin client OS) with no API’s – and hence, according to McNaught, no known viruses, a key advantage considering possible security risk associated with the fact that desktop clients can reach into data centre systems.
And at the very low end ($129 device) is the Wyse Cloud Connect, a very small, mobile thin client that allows the user to take advantage of any screen to access the desktop. Described by McNaught as “a cellphone without the screen or the radio,” this universal access device contains a dual core processor, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity (to download content data), Nanopoint software, some storage and a mini USB that allows HDMI (USB and video in the same port). Hardening of the Cloud Connect, and its small form factor have led to a unique use case for the device: digital signage that is delivered up in partnership with ISVs, who have created content management systems to upload image assets, schedule content and send it to devices in the field – so far at Drake Coffee shops, Pinnacle bank in the US Midwest, and in several Delaware schools.
Clearly, a lack of deployment alternatives is no longer hindering adoption of virtual desktop. But how do all of these different options play? Do they recreate the confusion of terms and technologies and management issues that has dogged desktop virtualization since its inception? Not so, according to Dan O’Farrell, director of product marketing, Dell Cloud Client-Computing, rather integration work has helped Dell create end-to-end solutions comprised of PowerEdge servers, Dell storage and networking and Wyse clients with partner hypervisors and brokers or Wyse vWorkspace layered on top that take advantage of Dell software to ease management. “We do really rigorous testing to ensure that all these components work like clockwork together as a single entity that can be managed with our Foglight [application performance monitoring] software, which allows the customer to look at the solution as a single organism,” O’Farrell explained. “This insight gives the user much more ability to plan, install, configure and manage – and to make more intelligent choices around when to add more server CPU or storage to address the needs of different types of users.”
He also pointed to the XC Datacenter appliance as a good example of Dell integration at work: “we actually get that appliance from the Dell Enterprise Server Group, and we thoroughly test it with the hypervisor and broker software on it, and then write an appliance architecture that fully describes how to build this out, and then we offer that as a complete, end-to-end solution.” In other words, from a deploy and management perspective, the whole is better than the sum of its parts – and Wyse client technology more appealing to potential adopters when augmented with an infrastructure solution that, as O’Farrell noted, “really takes the guess work out of it.”
The key to a successful deployment is understanding needs – user types and numbers of seats. As O’Farrell explained, there are a number of ways to virtualize the desktop experience: classic VDI with dedicated server and storage resources aimed at the knowledge worker using a variety of applications who requires persistent desktop; the shared use of common images or application sets, which may require less server or storage capacity; application layering, where virtual applications are streamed to the endpoint for local execution (new in vWorkspace 8.5); the sharing of PC-like server resources (common in Microsoft environments); and also new, HTML 5 browser-based access using any device to log into content. These five types of desktop virtualization map to an “inventory of use cases” that are specific to each organization, or even to divisions or groups within the business, that also have unique hardware recommendations. Not surprisingly, Dell also has a solution to solve this conundrum – leverage of the 16 preconfigured architectures that have already been developed, or to support more custom requirements, Dell Blueprint Fit Assessment, an in-depth collection and analysis of current desktop, application and device usage that provides environmental data critical to successful desktop virtualization implementation. For customers visiting a Dell Solution Centre, Dell also offers a high-level VDI workshop service at no cost.
 Gartner, Inc. “Market Trends: Desktop Virtualization, 2013,” October 10, 2013.
 Gartner, Inc. "Forecast: Hosted Virtual Desktops, Worldwide, 2012-2016, 2012 Update."
 Gartner, Inc. "Forecast: Devices by Operating System and User Type, Worldwide, 2010-2017, 3Q13 Update.”
 Techaisle Research. “US SMB & Midmarket VDI Adoption Trends.” 2014.