Workspace or VDI - Which one do you need?
Recently, I've been getting this question more frequently as more analysts are discussing workspace.
Let me step back to level set. The diagram depicts the problem you are trying to solve: deliver any app or desktop to any device, managed or un-managed. Apps can be windows client server, web, SaaS, native, or hybrid. So there are two ways for IT to solve this requirement: deliver VDI or a Workspace. But how do you choose which is right solution for you?
6 Questions to help you decide VDI or Workspace
1. Will users access applications and data from a PC only or multiple devices such as iPhones, tablets, Macs?
VDI's user experience is best on a PC type device with a keyboard and mouse. So if users are only using PCs, but not Macs, Android, iOS, then VDI is a suitable solution. However, if users will use multiple types of devices, which don't have right click or are primarily touch enabled, then a VDI session is not the optimal experience. Let's face it, most users don't like using a Windows desktop session on an iPad. So an alternative is to us a workspace to deliver direct access to applications without requiring a Windows desktop session.
2. Do users need offline access to documents?
If users are primarily in the office, then offline access to documents probably isn't a concern as they are likely always connected on the LAN so VDI would suffice. The need for offline access to documents most often impacts users who are mobile such as executives, sales, field based workers. In the this case, having a local offline and encrypted file system with built-in viewers under IT control enables users the ability to access documents when on an airplane or in a client's office without WiFi.
3. What's the optimal user experience for web and SaaS apps? Single hop or double hop to get to application?
VDI delivers a Windows desktop session. So, VDI users connect to a remoted Windows desktop session and then launch a browser within that remoted session. This is a double hop connection. For users primarily in the office on a low latency LAN, this is user experience should be fairly close to a native PC experience. However, for users remoting from home, on the road or a branch office over a network with some latency, the double hop can result in "slow performance" or "laggy keyboard and mouse" as the remoted VDI session is impacted. In this case, leveraging a locally installed browser in the workspace provides a single hop to the web app and a native web app experience.
4. Got Video?
Video has always been a challenge for VDI due to physics of streaming a remoted video over a real time protocol. In a VDI session, the video, such as a training or internal corporate communucations video, is rendered on the remote server and sent to the user in real time. For users primarily in the office on a low latency LAN, this is user experience should be fairly close to a native PC experience. However, for everyone else, the real time nature of remoting a video can result in choppy or unviewable video. Using a local browser within a workspace can deliver smooth video because the browser can buffer and then playback smoothly hiding any impacts from the network. This is simpily not possible with a VDI session because of the real time nature of the session stream.
5. How often does IT need to add / remove access to applications for users?
The effort to remove or add applications to a VDI session depends on how IT treats the VDI image. If everyone has a persistent desktop, this can be simple as long as there is enough storage and permissions. However, if you have a golden image(s) and / or user profiles and / or application virtualization (i.e. XenApp or App-V), this can be quite complex depending on how you choose to manage the images and user profiles. One way to simplify image management conflicts is to provide direct access to applications outside of the VDI session. In this case, a workspace can provide that direct access and adding or removing applications takes seconds and doesn't impact the VDI image at all.
6. Need fast access to CIFS?
Windows file sharing is still a very common workload. On a PC, joining a Windows based domain is simple. But domain join on a Mac, iOS, or Android device, is not so easy. So a VDI session can enable a user to access a Windows domain from a remoted Windows session. Once again this is a double hop experince where the user has to log into the Windows session and then find the mapped network drive. On a PC or a Mac, this works because of the keyboard and mouse. However, on a mobile device, this is a pain... especially if the user is a exec or sales trying to pull down the latest document on the fly from a iPad. A workspace with a built-in CIFS engine enables mobile users to quickly access CIFS drives in a single hop.
These are important questions to ask when deciding on a solution. When I was at Citrix, we spent hundreds of man years to improve the HDX protocol. Microsoft made similar improvements to RDP and Teradici to PCoIP. We are now at the physical limits of what can be done with the protocol. Also many of the challenges above are not protocol problems - offline access, Windows desktop on mobile devices, web apps, etc. Unfortnately, we can't bend rules of physics. There is emerging consensus that a workspace is indeed the right end user solution moving forward. Mark Bowker at ESG has a very thoughtful series on the workspace.
So workspace or VDI? That depends on your business requirements. However, workspace that includes access to virtual desktops is a safe bet for the future.
Let me know what you think.