The Slow Demise of VDI (and The Rise of The University App Store)
Almost at the same time that desktop virtualization became mainstream, cloud services arrived on the scene and began to grow exponentially. With the advent of Google apps and cloud storage services, such as Google Drive and Dropbox, IT users quickly embraced the freedom to migrate to the cloud and to work across multiple devices; mixing local applications with cloud services to enable them to work in new and more flexible ways.
Meanwhile in the data center, IT administrators were grappling with a kind of parallel to Moore’s Law: to deliver acceptable performance to endpoints an equivalent value of hardware and processing power is still required in the server rack. Even then, 3D applications such as ArcGIS, AutoDesk and even simple apps like Google Earth are practically unusable over anything but the fastest wired network link.
Using Photoshop [in VDI] was like trying to paint a canvas through a mail slot.
The result? The end user sitting at their expensive laptop, with CPU cycles going to waste, plugged in via a cable (having abandoned Wi-Fi), struggling to flip between local documents and the 3D application running in a window within a window. One student described using Photoshop in VDI as ‘like trying to paint a canvas through a mail slot’.
Back in the IT department, VDI administrators soon became the subject of hushed whispers. Not realizing that the only reason they could run 500 endpoints on their expensive server was that the users had long since switched to locally installed apps to get any serious work done.
What’s more, the promised savings on moving to thin clients were quickly lost as fat clients had to be rolled out again. For example, to do local 3D processing for apps in science and engineering, or for compatibility with local devices in computing.
Nowadays of course, fully-fledged Intel PCs (with HD graphics) have shrunk to the size and price point of thin clients, and over 90% of students come to University with a laptop anyway - the other 10% bring a desktop! The smart strategy is taking advantage of all that free local resource.
How to fix VDI (or at least reduce the associated costs!)?
To summarize, many of VDI's issues stem from its cost, resource, and time-intensive demands. As we know, VDI is a top-tier solution, carrying with it an appropriate price tag. It is generally very expensive and, as such, has become one of the delivery technologies of choice for large corporate organizations. These organizations are almost always fewer in headcount than any given university, with each individual user actively and recurringly adding value and generating revenue for those organizations. This provides some insight as to why VDI is less accessible as a solution to higher education. Aside from this, VDI is an extremely complex technology from both a hardware and software point of view. It requires a dedicated team of specialist system admins/architects and necessitates that all but the entirety of their time be spent upon management and maintenance.
The question is, can these demands be refined to the point of VDI becoming a consistently viable technology for higher education software delivery? In short, the answer is 'yes'. There are a number of innovative methods of refining VDI which are often overlooked, from intelligent provisioning to combining with other technologies.
Split the load with imaging
The first step of refining VDI, which is used by many organizations and is applicable to saving time & cost on many of the newer technologies. Imaging can almost be described as having the opposite challenges to VDI. It is often comparatively very affordable (some solutions are even free, such as Microsoft SCCM and other alternatives), underwhelming in capabilities and incredibly time-consuming. It also lacks agility when it comes to altering images in any way. With these facets of imaging and VDI in mind, it stands to reason that imaging works best for those apps which are most commonly launched and least frequently updated. Using imaging for the 'essentials', such as office, internet browsers, and PDF readers means that each of these software titles can be omnipresent across managed machines and accessible everywhere. By extension, this ensures that a VDI seat is never wasted on launches for these types of apps on managed devices, thereby saving seats and reducing the number of VDI licenses required.
Consider using VDI for your heavyweight apps
VDI relies upon a lot of dedicated, high-performance server real-estate to spin up desktops and run software titles on those virtualized desktops. Given other technologies are able to make use of end-devices' hardware and that, in most cases the end-device's hardware specs are likely to be lower than required, there's a good case for reserving VDI deployments for heavyweight apps. With modern VDI solutions' delivery speeds improving along with their user experience, VDI is becoming ever more viable for running memory or GPU intensive apps. Consider using VDI to launch these apps in cases where the end-device's hardware has been deemed insufficient. This will result in fewer launches via VDI and lower peak concurrency when it comes to VDI licenses, thereby allowing IT to reduce the number of licenses they purchase.
Although VDI can help improve the user experience for heavyweight apps, to do so requires a high-performance infrastructure to support the delivery of those complex/large applications
AppsAnywhere can detect data from an end user's context and use it to determine the best way to deliver an app. Read more at the following link about how AppsAnywhere accomplishes this and achieves Unified Application Delivery. >>
Prioritize appropriate delivery contexts for VDI launches
Through some smart provisioning based upon contextual information on the end-user, a higher education organization can greatly reduce their number of unnecessary launches through VDI and, therefore, their dependency upon it. Provisioning in this manner would reduce the number of instances where VDI isn't necessarily the only or best option. For example, VDI is perfect for remotely accessing apps that must be installed on-site for security reasons, or because their license forbids off-site installation. VDI is necessary to fully enable BYOD for all your software titles. That being said, it is not required for every launch and, in many cases, will not be the most appropriate delivery method.
You can read more about improving VDI in our article, 'How to fix VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) to improve how you deliver applications' >>
What are the alternatives to VDI?
Indeed, the challenge for the next few years is to rethink IT services for the new generation of digital natives. IT users who are so used to working anywhere and across multiple devices that they already save all of their documents and data to the cloud, and have only ever launched software from an app store.
Thankfully advances in application virtualization over the past 10 years have offered a way out of VDI hell, though it wasn’t all plain sailing. Initially, separating applications from the OS gave users the flexibility to work outside of the remote desktop window; but many of the same problems with connectivity and performance remained, and not all applications were compatible.
That is until the latest generation of application virtualization technology made it possible to run applications locally, and even to work offline, whilst still retaining license control and providing usage data for the IT department. The clever part is not just virtualizing the application client-side, but creating layers of virtualization.
For example, the most advanced solution from Numecent provides the ability to fully install applications to a user’s device, or to integrate them virtually, or to isolate them within a virtual bubble. But that’s not all. These options can be defined per registry key and on a file-by-file basis.
It’s that flexible layering approach that now allows 100% of applications to be virtualized, where other solutions are still stuck at 50-60%. Cloudpaging technology then allows the application to be delivered on-demand page-by-page, meaning that to run a 900MB application may only require 100MB of data to be downloaded. It’s similar to the YouTube idea of progressive download in that you can start running an app right away, whilst the rest of the data is delivered in the background.
Break free of the desktop
- Deliver all apps through an app store
- Run natively with full performance
- Apps work across Windows versions
- Access data from sync clients or locally
- Work anywhere (even offline)
The application behaves just like it was locally installed - even while the progressive download is ongoing - then once all of the data is through you can work offline. The only tether to the data center now is for the software license, and offline use can be set to timeout after a set number of days – at which point the app is removed automatically. Finally, any application can be configured with a concurrent license limit,or set to online use only.
As most virtual Windows apps also work across multiple versions of the OS, we now have a solution that delivers all the promised benefits of VDI but with none of the previous drawbacks. Of course, users still need a method to access the library of applications, and that is where AppsAnywhere are leading the field.
Working exclusively in education, AppsAnywhere (a university app store) was developed to meet the diverse needs of universities and colleges. Education is a unique environment where IT need to provide hundreds of apps, with dozens of different licensing models, to thousands of students and staff.
AppsAnywhere - the university app store
AppsAnywhere provides flexible controls to deploy apps to managed desktops, to existing VDI (for example as part of a migration plan, or to reduce costs) as well as directly to BYOD users. Apps are delivered from an institution-branded app store which is hosted on-site with local administration.
As you’d expect, the response from students is overwhelmingly positive. They can now run virtualized apps alongside installed applications, accessing data locally or from the cloud, and with the flexibility to work anywhere, including offline. At last, after 20 years, technology is finally freeing users from the shackles of a single desktop.
As one student put it 'why would you install software when you can get it from the app store?'. We were going to ask them about VDI, but they didn’t seem to know what it was...