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Is VDI Dying or Evolving?


VDI – virtualized desktop infrastructure – has been around for years. It is widely used to provide remote application access to contractors, third parties and acquired companies. It was a great technology, as I’ll go into more detail below, and has been around for a decade or more.

However, it’s become increasingly evident that VDI is a holdover from a bygone era, a relic of a PC-centric, client-server model that is hanging on in today’s world of web and mobile apps. It’s ill-suited to tackle the challenges of the modern day. According to Gartner, every employee is now a digital employee, requiring a workplace that promotes engagement, agility and freedom. Traditional VDI simply doesn’t have a place in such a workplace: it’s dated, it’s cumbersome and it’s difficult and expensive to both deploy and maintain.

As is the case with many dated technologies, VDI adoption has stalled in the enterprise. Gartner once forecast that 30% of enterprise PCs would be VDIs by 2014, but now says VDIs will account for only 8% of systems in 2017. The analyst firm has even gone so far as to refer to hosted virtual desktops as a “niche” alternative.

Faced with data such as this, one wouldn’t be remiss in thinking the technology is dying. But such thoughts are far from the truth. The core concept behind VDI is still essential.

Businesses still need a way to offer applications to employees without providing full access, a company-owned PC and the extensive layers of IT management that accompany employee onboarding. They still need a means of enabling remote work without putting their data at risk and without storing it on the cloud, which comes with its own array of problems. Because of this, VDI is far from dead. Rather, it’s becoming something entirely new.

But in order to understand where it’s going, we need to first examine where it’s coming from, and what’s causing it to shift.

A Brief History of Desktop Virtualization in Enterprises

Virtualized infrastructure has actually been around for much longer than many realize. It was originally invented by IBM in the 1960s, where it was used to make the company’s then-massive mainframe computers more efficient. The virtualized infrastructure we know of today didn’t really come to prominence until the late ’90s, however, when Citrix and VMware introduced VDI as a solution to reduce physical infrastructure costs and enable better disaster recovery in enterprise.

For a long time, the solutions developed by these companies stood as the best way to enable remote employees. Then, a few years ago, there was a change. Web apps began to replace thick applications. HTML5 increased the richness of these apps. Mobility began to take root in the enterprise, and VDI’s struggle grew increasingly difficult.

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To say that VDI’s obsolescence is due to the advent of new types of endpoints is an oversimplification, however. It’s true, of course, that they weren’t designed for the types of devices in use today. There have been attempts to extend virtualized desktops to a mobile form factor, and as those of you who’ve used them can probably agree, the user experience turned out to be very, very nasty.

The truth is that the broadening of form factors we’ve seen in enterprises is only a small part of what’s driving change in VDI. What’s ultimately going to bring down traditional virtualization – what’s ultimately going to drive evolution in the VDI space – is changes in application development. The way people are developing applications, and the way that these applications are architected, are themselves evolving.

The Evolution of App Development

In 2014, Gartner predicted that as HTML5 and its development tools matured, the mobile web and hybrid applications would gain newfound prominence. Today, we’re seeing that prediction come true, as IDC reports an increasing number enterprises turning towards HTML5 for their development needs as more and more browsers extend support for the technology.

There are other drivers here, as well. New technologies like session- and desktop-hosted virtualization are increasingly driving VDI into a niche that fewer and fewer find attractive. And finally, as I’ve already mentioned, traditional VDI provides neither the convenience nor the ease of use demanded by modern users. Not only that, it’s expensive, requiring IT to juggle multiple software and virtualization licenses, while at the same time being difficult to manage and scale.

Together, all of these factors are driving an evolution in the VDI space – but in the meantime, it’s being replaced by other technologies.

A Good Solution – But What Comes Next?

The BlackBerry Access Secure Browser (formerly known as Good Access) is one such VDI replacement. Developed as a lightweight means of deploying applications to business partners, independent agents, contractors and remote employees, BlackBerry Access is a containerized browser that enables your users to securely and seamlessly access corporate intranet and web applications on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac OS. An essential component of the recently announced Good Secure EMM Suites, now known as BlackBerry Enterprise Mobility Suite, when compared to traditional VDI, is that BlackBerry Access is more cost-effective, easier to manage and easier to use.

There can be no doubt that, driven by new form factors, new use cases and changes in development practices, VDI is evolving. But in the long run, what’s going to replace it? We’ll discuss that in a follow-up piece. Stay tuned.

You can learn more about how Good Access works in the webinar Blurred Lines: Windows 10 PC and Mobile, hosted by myself and my colleague Sriram Krishnan.

About Michael Khalili