Will VDI Get You Fired?

Donald Trump "You're Fired"Will VDI get you fired? If you don’t know the answer to that question than the risk of having a career shortening event from a VDI implementation are very high for you. Fear of having a career shortening event (CSE) and getting fired certainly isn’t new. I’ve seen some fantastic CSE’s over the years but they were usually from someone doing something totally boneheaded or just reckless. And, all of them were in corporate IT. After all, why do we joke about CIO being short for career is over?

VDI & Virtual Desktops

Until recently I had a hard time imaging what it would take to trigger a CSE in higher education. Would violating acceptable use do it? What about a data breach of protected student, financial or health information? Even if it was a careless act? Probably not.

VDI – now that will do it. Especially VMware virtual desktop. Disagree? Here’s how.

Imagine you and your team have barely finished taking your victory lap from your server virtualization project in the data center. The smell of success is in the air and you have ordered Easy Buttons from Staples for the team.

Your budget request last fall for $3M to convert to 1000 virtual desktops using VDI over the next 2 years was approved. Barely two months in to the project you realize you need to upgrade your data center core infrastructure and several segments of your campus network. Another month goes by and you learn a virtual desktop behaves differently than a virtual server and you don’t have enough storage capacity or I/O so you buy another SAN.

Now one year into the project and you realize:

  • $3M is now $4M and climbing
  • 2 year timeline is now 3 years
  • Only 100 desktops are converted in a “pilot”
  • Desktop virtualization is not the same as server virtualization
  • Year one hard dollar savings – vaporized

Will VDI get you fired? Colossal fails like this scenario and others even worse are playing out on campuses all over the world. It’s not just higher education either. CIO’s in every sector have VDI on the brain and crazy ROI’s if they even bothered to do one.

Will VDI Get You Fired – VDI Project Failure

What is conspicuously absent in nearly every story I hear is what exactly the overall desktop strategy is that is driving VDI initiatives. Is it purely that the CIO is looking for savings and efficiency from desktop virtualization like they saw in the data center? Is it the last VDI sales rep through the door had a good enough pitch so that’s what moved it forward?

If you are not prepared to answer the following questions, be prepared to update your resume:

  • What strategic problem is being addressed?
  • What opportunity are you exploiting or enabling?
  • Is this the most important use of funds for the college right now?
  • How will you define success and is desktop virtualization the least cost approach to get you there?
  • How does desktop virtualization enable a business strategy in the college?
  • What is it the users want/need that desktop virtualization enables?

Can’t answer these questions then it is likely you have a pure technology project internally driven by IT with no clear business driver or way to measure success.

But there are still two major aspects of VDI projects that stand out for me. First, with so many institutions under increasing financial pressures isn’t there a better way to produce efficiencies, savings or to solve the desktop challenges? Second, in a post-PC era why would you initiate a strategy with a pay-back so far out for a platform that is looking increasingly as though it is becoming obsolete?

Will VDI Get You Fired – Failed ROI

I mean really, higher education has very low software licensing costs and thin clients unit costs are comparable to desktops making the ROI in higher education difficult at best. If you are banking on producing support savings it likely means your imaging capabilities are not very mature which probably means your support capability for VDI is not likely to be much better.  (Note: if you have never had to support thin clients, it may be time to phone a friend who has.) Additionally, if you are banking on deferred PC refresh to make your ROI you should go ahead an just update your resume.

Other aspects to consider include slower conversions drag out the project and cause dual solutions to coexist that may not be accounted for in your ROI. You are also transferring the desktop management into the data center world where the cost of labor is usually higher than desktop, especially if you have access to cheap student workers.

Finally, if you are not fully committed to delivering hard dollar savings in the form of cutting your budget and/or reducing staff your ROI is just fiction. So, it may be time to exercise real leadership and just sit tight and skip this wave of VDI. Use this time to gain maturity on the critical processes for supporting VDI and learn from the mistakes of others as the vendor landscape evolves.

Will VDI get you fired? It is very likely it can if you do not do a thorough job of assessing the likelihood for success. Besides, take the money you would have used go to something more strategic that improves outcomes and student success.

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4 Responses to Will VDI Get You Fired?

  1. Karen says:

    I couldn’t help but chuckle out loud at much of this. I experienced a lot of what you describe although not with those dollars associated and, thankfully, I do have my job. In our specific case, I/O had been a serious problem which VDI unearthed. VDI became a very visible symptom to an underlying problem that was affecting much of our architecture.

    I use my virtualized PC every day. I have presented on this topic now twice and will be a third time soon. Each time I have started with the same lead in: “Will this save you money over physical desktops? No.” However, I am not certain I agree with your assertion that “imaging capabilities are poor” if you think you will achieve support savings. We have continually had to try and provide support with a shrinking staff. Imaging or no, there are definite benefits not having to worry about handling physical machines.

    Virtual desktops have given us some flexibility as well. We have provisioned machines as a secondary computer for faculty. The truth is in the middle as with most things. VDI needs to be implemented with the right job function and with the right expectations of the user. We did okay on the first part and, initially, not well on the second. I have been recovering from that for a long time. If I didn’t use mine daily, I might feel differently, but I see it work for my needs.

    To your point about expense of thin client hardware, I mandate basically zero OS on the hardware. We manage them centrally and do nothing to them locally. Sustainability is also a part of our equation.

    If you haven’t started, then skipping it might be advisable or, at the very least, make sure the end user audience is well defined and you know what to expect. I think over-hyped expectations are the biggest problem. Vendors proclaim the benefits using corporate examples without understanding that corporate computing bears little resemblance to higher ed, even in the administrative offices. Buying into that hype is damaging and confusing. VDI has a niche here. I think it will reach a plateau of usefulness in its current iteration. I didn’t have the choice to skip it. If I had, I am not certain I can say that I wish we hadn’t started since the learning experience has been incredibly valuable and other core pieces of our infrastructure have benefited from those lessons. I could definitely do without the bad PR though. That has been nothing but headaches.

  2. Karen, What a great story and I am so glad to hear you had a good chuckle and that you have worked thru the challenges. You can look back at some older posts of mine and see the strategy for the desktop. We have dabbled in VMware’s VDI for very specific instructional uses while primarily focusing on application virtualization using Citrx and App-V.

    I am intrigued by the answers I get when I ask people how they chose one VM’s VDI over others solutions like Citrix VDI. I am also interested in the answers to questions like what performance targets have you set for “boot” times and launch times and how will you monitor them? These should show up soon in another post.

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