Windows 7 launched roughly a year ago riding a wave of pent-up PC refresh demand and arriving just in time for the budding cloud craze. But now that companies have actually deployed Windows 7 and its much touted VDI, it’s time to evaluate actual performance against all the pre-sell promises.
In our random poll of CIOs and deployment consultants, the response was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, there wasn’t a single disgruntled soul in the mix. “Regular applications, e.g. Microsoft Office, Adobe, SAS, etc., and the operating system itself run very well,” said Vincent Boragina, manager of Server Administration at The W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
But that is not to say that Windows 7’s VDI (virtual desktop) doesn’t have its share of problems.
Boragina said the university has had the technology in place for about eight months now and although there are several pain points, the most notable and frustrating is with streaming media through virtual environments. “For us, this is still where the difference is noticed.”
But desktop virtualization is still maturing so these problems are not seen by Boragina as a deal breaker since the solution will probably come over time. Wallace Jackson, a multimedia producer at MindTaffy Design, said that continuous improvements are a near-certainty. “Microsoft is improving their product’s stability due to market competition from Novell SUSE Linux and Oracle OpenSolaris.”
Deployment bumps and bruises
Jackson said that MindTaffy, a multimedia producer that specializes in 3D Programming for Acrobat3D PDF, Android Mobile Apps, Virtual Worlds, iTV Design, JavaFX and JavaTV, is satisfied with Window 7’s VDI. The company had little trouble deploying it but “we have 6GB to 8GB of DDR3.” His remark is not unexpected as storage capacity is a recurring theme in deployment tales of woe.
Like many companies and organizations, Arizona State University hoped to “go another year or two” with older storage area networks (SAN), but desktop virtualization pushed the SAN beyond its limits. Most IT organizations are already struggling with capacity for general data storage and tend to limp along using slower disks for cheap storage space. Unfortunately, desktop and server virtualization require faster SAN I/O performance. As a result, storage issues quickly come to a head and force upgrades earlier than planned.
“We did need to enhance our SAN,” said Boragina. While the need for SAN enhancement can be accelerated by virtualization, it isn’t entirely fair to add these costs to overall deployment costs since SAN enhancement is largely unavoidable with or without virtualized environments.
But SAN is not the only potential pain point in VDI deployment.
“There are several technologies that desktop virtualization spans, e.g. storage area networks (SAN), operating systems, virtual environments, database, network, etc. … so deployments can be complex,” warned Boragina. “Our understanding of our SAN and current virtualization infrastructure allowed us to create and scale our infrastructure to meet the demands of desktop virtualization.”
Ruben Spruijt, technology officer at PQR carries the additional titles of Citrix Technology Professional (CTP), Microsoft Most Value Professional (MVP) and VMware vExpert. He advises companies looking to use desktop virtualization to consider the impact on network in latency, bandwidth and packet loss. “The technology stack is much higher and there are more moving parts,” he said. “You need an overview of the complete stack.”
The top advantages he’s seen from Windows 7 VDI are flexibility and freedom in multiple virtual desktops uses side-by-side and for multiple users in accessing their own customized desktops from anywhere and on any device. “Security is easier and better considering data is kept in the datacenter and not on the endpoint,” he said. “Management is easier too given hardware independent imaging, added resource control and permanent load-balancing.”
ITC Infotech, a global IT services company, reports favorable outcomes with Windows 7 VDI as well. “ITC Infotech has found that Windows 7 VDI increases user productivity, enables centralized management of the virtual client computing environment and reduces total cost of client desktop ownership,” said L N Balaji, president of U.S. Operations. “It provides tools that enable a centralized supervision of virtual client computing which assists in improving client computing management and support.”
The ultimate test
User adoption is always the litmus test for any new technology. If employees accept or embrace the latest company deployment, then success is far more likely. Conversely, if users refuse to use a new technology, then the whole project is doomed.
Of those polled, all said “user acceptance varied” initially but was “overwhelmingly favorable” by project completion. Surprisingly, virtual desktop acceptance did not lineup as expected with the millennial vs. older worker pattern established by previous technology user trends. Instead, user acceptance of virtual desktops tends to teeter on control issues.
Some people love the technology and the ability to work on the same environment from home or the office/campus. It helped that performance never became an issue. “It didn’t matter how slow their client PC was, the virtualized environment worked well,” said Boragina.
“However, some were skeptical especially since, in our case, you would be taking away a little bit of the comfort and flexibility of working locally on a system with locally stored information on a PC’s hard drive,” he explained. “Once people saw the flexibility and reliability and learned how to use the system they were sold.”
The most telling indicator of the usefulness and reliability of Windows 7 VDI is not in the many praises it received in this limited poll but rather in the quiet nothingness on the Web. The usual Microsoft bash-fest is missing. When’s the last time you saw that happen?
A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker’s published credits include numerous articles in leading publications including, but not limited to: Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology and eight books. Baker also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG).