Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is generally inexpensive. And many organizations have used it for years to centralize and secure their data, whilst also enabling employees to access their desktops from anywhere. Long before the pandemic, it’s been powering more secure, productive and flexible ways of working.
At least that’s true for organizations that only need to access to Windows and not much beyond Office and other basic programs. Most VDI falls short, however, when supporting high-performance working, such as the powerful graphics and processing required for CAD and 3D modelling. That means VDI has either been out of reach due to cost and/or offered a poor experience to engineers, construction professionals, architects, graphic designers, VFX, postproduction houses etc.
Demanding software like Autodesk, Bentley and Vectorworks throw up specific challenges. This type of software requires powerful workstations, with high processing and graphical capabilities – traditionally large tower devices fixed to a desk in an office. When working outside of the office users will often have a poor experience connecting to these workstations remotely. At a really basic level, it also restricts employees from simply moving to another part of the office to collaborate with colleagues (roaming profiles never having been a good idea in for heavy users).
Office based infrastructure is also usually only served by single power and internet sources, either of which going down leads to serious disruption. So, in summary, these types of organizations suffer from poor remote performance, lack of flexibility, minimal resilience.
VDI, in theory, enables a move away from fixed desks, whilst keeping data and resources in a central, secure and resilient location and, if paired with responsive remote desktop technology, a better remote experience when working on design files.
Tim Whiteley is co-founder of Inevidesk.
VDI does exist for these types of use cases; the problem is in the way that most vendors serve these types of companies. Services are not transparent. They’re not cost-effective. They’re complex. And consequently, many SMBs feel costed out of VDI.
Let’s give some examples to put this into perspective…
Licensing. Most VDI suppliers utilize Nvidia GRID technology; GPU becoming one more shared resource. Theoretically this should allow usage to be more efficient, but really it just makes everything more expensive via a combination of hardware and licensing fees. Added to that, there will be VMware or Citrix licenses sitting on top. Complex. Expensive. And for many SMBs, inaccessible.
When I’ve worked this out previously, it’s an average cost per desktop (specified to adequately support use of BIM software such as Autodesk Revit) of around £2,000 - £3,000 per year. That’s a similar price to a really high spec workstation but paid out every year. This is just not feasible for SMBs who ordinarily would run such an asset for three to five years. Plus, these solutions are often provided only in large tranches, perhaps in batches of 30 or similar. A big commitment. Such solutions are also generally provided by VDI ‘experts’, who will then charge hefty consultancy fees for implementation and management.
There is dynamically scalable virtual infrastructure, like Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure platform, which allows organizations to adjust their resources by the minute and only pay for the resources they use. Again, this seems like a great idea, until the monthly bill comes in and you realize you are paying up to five times what you would have paid using physical workstations. Many companies we have spoken with describe Azure VDI as ‘uncontrolled cost’ and spend lots of time worrying about shutting down their virtual desks to save money. This is both a strange way to operate and clearly unworkable for organizations that operate a follow-the-sun model with satellite offices, or have team members that typically work longer hours and weekends, as many creatives or engineering firms do. Time racks up. As does the cost.
Cutting corners doesn’t work
Faced with expensive solutions that are designed for an enterprise market, many SMB IT leaders turn to cutting corners to keep costs down. I’ve seen organizations try to make VDI technology more cost effective by vastly over provisioning resources. Sharing RAM, storage, processing, and graphic cards to extract the most value from their system This is how virtualization works, after all. But, this only works if users get the resources they need at the time they need it. If too many employees use resources at the same time, the technology underperforms or even grinds to a halt. Users don’t have enough power to undertake their work effectively.
On a company level, this means you end up paying a lot for VDI without being able to take full advantage of the benefits and in many cases, actually reducing efficiency. Teams able to work their way, boosted agility and flexibility, secure infrastructure, better resiliency in times of disruption – are but a few missed opportunities.
Enterprise VDI solutions don’t fit SMBs
The dominance of enterprise players in VDI like VMware, Azure and Citrix mean many SMBs who require high-performance options think they’re either costed out of using the technology or have to cut so many corners that they only realize a small fraction of its benefits. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Do your research. There are now alternatives in the market opening the benefits of high performance VDI to a wider range of organizations. Less cost, higher performance, more specialization, simpler implementations. You no longer have to stay tethered to the hardware at your desk, or compromise on your remote working experience. Yes, even SMBs should be able to work the way they want to. The democratization of high performance VDI is here.