Has VDI Peaked? A Change in the Adoption Drivers Sheds New Light, and New Life

Winning teams delight in the 'doing', not the 'winning'
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chuck Noll was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his leadership was my first glimpse into what separates teams that win from teams that don't. My favorite quote from Noll exemplifies his view both simply and eloquently: "The thrill isn't in the winning, it's in the doing." What Noll taught his players, including Terry Bradshaw, 'Mean Joe' Green, and Franco Harris, is how to delight in the joy of doing, over the joy of winning. Why? Because the 'winning' won't come unless your passion comes from the 'doing'!

This is why I'm so excited about the explosive trend of BYOD and consumerization of IT on so many levels, from cloud computing to tablets. Workers are putting the joy back into the 'doing' parts of their jobs by exploring different ways of working, and using technologies that often exceed what even the best IT organizations can generally provide. It's also why I think we'll see a rebound of Hosted Virtual Desktops (also known as VDI) through 2013 and beyond. But first, let's look at the data:
IT interest in VDI appears to be on a downward trend
Forrester's annual survey of IT decision-makers revealed a drop in interest and plans for VDI initiatives from 2011 to 2012:
But a shift in the IT drivers for VDI suggests it could actually be an inflection point
There was also a subtle but very important shift in the reasons why those who are interested are…well…interested in VDI. We didn't ask about supporting employees' ability to work from anywhere in 2011, but when we introduced the option for 2012, it took the top spot at the expense of some of the traditional reasons. Meanwhile, enabling Macs and BYOPC programs both increased significantly:
While 3-year trends on IT consumerization and BYOD strengthen the case
This correlates well with our Workforce Employee Survey data analysis, where we can see the growth of employee spending on computers (not just tablets) to do their jobs over a 3-year time horizon:
Survey question: What is your level of interest in being allowed to bring your own PC as your work PC of any type, desktop or laptop? (Employees who answered they would be willing to pay for some or all of the cost to get the device of their choice):
Source: Source: Forrsights Workforce Employee Survey, Q4 2012, Q4 2011, Q4 2012. Sample size = 3284 (2012)
VDI didn't really start coming of age until 2009, but the drivers then were cost and efficiency
When we look at these results in the context of Google Trends data, we can see the long ramp-down of traditional thin client PC technologies, and by extension shared server-based computing in general. Beginning in 2009 - about the time firms were beginning to plan for Windows 7 and both Citrix and VMware were announcing major new VDI platforms and technologies, we can see the rise of VDI, followed by a slight decline.
Source: Google Trends (trends.google.com), March 31, 2013
Now it's about employee flexibility
But here's the interesting thing to me: Both of the Forrester surveys above show an underlying change. First the Workforce Employee Survey shows rapid growth in employee willingness to spend their own money on devices (and many did). Second, we see a lagging indicator of IT shifting the reasons why they're interested in client virtualization technology. It's no longer about cost and efficiency, it's about employee workstyle flexibility!
VDI costs more, but you're getting something for your money
In our research on the relative cost of operations for VDI vs. physical PCs, we found higher operational costs for VDI - especially for knowledge workers. Why? Because to understand the cost of VDI, you have to analyze the backend costs too. And, the employee is usually getting less of a lot of things they care about, like the ability to install software, less storage, less portability, etc.
So when does VDI make sense?
VDI makes sense when it gets IT out of the business of worrying about employee-owned devices. It makes sense when it's one of several ways that IT can provide remote access to systems of record from untrusted or employee-owned devices. It makes sense when workers can do things they could't do any other way. Advanced, collaborative engineering and design is a great example. Firms like Peugeot-Citroen and Applied Materials are using VDI to scale their engineering systems to global teams. Engineering files and databases are becoming so large, it's no longer practical to carry them around on a laptop, and VDI actually provides much better portability of the experience. Virtual GPU innovations from NVIDIA are accelerating these graphics-rich experiences for VDI environments, where the rendering used to be done with the CPU alone.
The future looks bright for Desktops-as-a-Service (DaaS)
The number one barrier to client virtualization adoption is a lack of internal resources and skills. Also high on the list is immaturity of the technologies. However, as we see with other cloud and SaaS technologies, these concerns can go away when a provider has the expertise and infrastructure already, and the service is easy to consume and affordable. DaaS providers like Desktone, tuCloud and dinCloud have considerable experience and maturing infrastructures. Citrix is delivering DaaS-ready infrastructures for providers, which will help rev up the market.
More on all of these topics in upcoming blogs and research. With my friend and colleague J.P. Gownder now joining Christian Kane, Michele Pelino, Christopher Voce and me on the Workforce Enablement Playbook team, I'll be focusing a lot more on my passion for client virtualization, and on helping I&O professionals apply it wisely to bring back employees' zest for 'doing' through engaging experiences. Employees who can enjoy what they're doing because the experience is right are the lifeblood of companies who win!


Dave, great data and post. In


great data and post. In EMEA I see more and more desktop virtualization projects with our customers. The interesting thing I notice is that customers focus on desktop virtualization projects, but understand that this is just a technology to deliver a workspace to an end-user. And this workspace is not only VDI.

The second thing I notice is the huge demand for mobility and delivery of a work environment for smart devices; tablets and smartphones. Your post include those data. This demand forces desktop virtualization to bridge the gap of business critical apps. Another driver for VDI and the need to support employees to work from anywhere.

All the best,


Thanks for your comments, Patrick. Glad to hear that your experience echoes what we're finding.

Question for you: We also see companies interested in developing a flexible portfolio of delivery and access options that matches both the characteristics of the application, but also adapts to how and where the employees using those systems work. Often times this may mean a combination of app virt, local client virtualization, XenApp, and VDI. Do you see that also in Germany and Europe overall, or do the customers you work with tend to look toward just one solution or technical approach?

Secondly, how familiar are the IT orgs who operate in Europe with the legal and audit implications of BYOD - do you think it's still a significant knowledge gap?


For sure, if customers want

For sure, if customers want to virtualize, they choose a multi-vendor/ technology solution. XenApp is always a favorite due to costs in combination with Provisioning Services. Persistent desktops through XenDesktop the second choice, I see less pooled desktops, but application streaming with MS App-V. Of course hardware refresh is often considered but migration over the next 3-5 years with a zero client strategy. But the "fat/ rich client" will not die, it is a valid strategy to combine technologies to deliver certain applications. "Always on" is still theory, so offline capabilities are needed for the "road warriors".

BYOD is still complicated in Europe due to legal challenges, think it will need at minimum 2-3 years to adopt.



Thanks for the extra details


Thank you for taking the extra time to answer. Very helpful extra insights.


BYOD, VDI & Mobile Intersection

David, very interesting post. At Flexera Software we see many of these same trends around BYOD. In our own experience we also see that user-centricity is now a key driver for VDI.

People invest their time, efforts and most importantly, money, on the platform and devices they want, so it’s safe to assume they are comfortable with the personal devices they are bringing to work. The control and determination of platform is crucial to the acceptance of new technology, which will always be higher when users choose their own platform vs. being given a platform with which they are unfamiliar.

Mobility is the increasing concern for employees vs. VDI for employers (employers do still care about mobility, but once VDI is selected it’s tough to pull back from the project since the investment is so large.)

The big question remains: Will enterprises continue to shift to VDI for the added controls provided by the virtualization toolsets via vendors like VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft, or will they shift more resources to mobility and invest more in mobile device management and portals to make applications more easily available to all workers?

While this is not an “either-or” scenario – it seems that the marketplace currently views it as one.

Toby-Thanks for your


Thanks for your thoughtful comments. VDI is just one method in a collection of capabilities needed to deliver access to applications efficiently. But it's also sometimes a short to medium-term solution until firms can make investments in their applications to modernize them, move to SaaS, etc.

Citrix and VMware have some clever ways of presenting traditional Win32 UIs to tablet screens. While they're not a substitute for a dedicated app, they do help improve the experience meaningfully. But at the same time, by definition such technologies require fast, reliable connectivity to the server which of course is not practical with traveling workers, etc so for these cases VDI becomes a tool of occasional online use when the worker needs access to systems of record, etc.

So the direction is clearly toward newer mobile device platforms and native app experiences that provide rich visuals, easy touch-based navigation, and data persistence for offline use when necessary. With that comes the need for portals and deployment tools for these platforms.

But given the massive long-term investment in Win32 apps globally and the likelihood that the venerable Windows desktop will be around for many years to come, I think VDI and terminal services will increasingly become logical choices for providing part-time online access to systems of record while abstracting the apps and data from the device and OS in the workers' hands.


It's all about the App


The trend seems to be that the focus has shifted from providing a platform, typically a Windows desktop experience, to an application focus with delivery of the App to any device. Most end users now access their apps from more than one device and don't need a full Windows desktop, neither VDI nor DaaS, on all of their devices.

The truth is no one saw the big cost savings with VDI like they did with server consolidation no matter how they spun their ROI & TCO models. Now service providers and IT managers can look to VDI and DaaS technologies as a new approach to application delivery and stop just trying to replicate a Windows desktop.

At ICC Global Hosting we see many customers with specific use cases for things like outsourced workers, application hosting, and BYOD without the complexity of MDM. These all point back to getting to the App and data, and the underlying platform doesn't matter to the end user.

Thank you, Mark. Mostly agree.

Hi Mark-

I think your observations are on target and I thank you for weighing in to share and keeping the dialog going!

I agree with your analysis on people not seeing cost savings, and we were able to uncover precisely where and why in our research, so I'm glad your observations support that too!

However on the sentiment that the OS doesn't matter, we still have a lot of app dependencies on the Windows desktop environment and we think that will be true for many years to come.

What's less certain is what the rate of application development will be on Windows 8 and future versions of the Windows desktop relative to other platforms.

We've crossed a tipping point in app dev for business on iOS and Android (for now), and we're also seeing iOS especially as having earned the confidence of IT even in regulated and secured environments with relatively little management in place. As a mobile OS, iOS also falls under different NIST guidance than Windows.

Microsoft will need to move pretty fast to disrupt itself in the tablet OS wars if it wants to turn the tables back around. My point is that Windows as a desktop and productivity OS will continue to matter a lot, at least for the foreseeable future. But there is no guarantee that they regain 95% total device OS share.

Thanks Again,

Unmentioned driver

Good post as always David, one driver that is unmentioned though, cyber-defense.

We will triple the size of our estate in the next 6-12 months because of the cyber-defense use case alone.

I have never sold as many DaaS desktops as I have with the cyber-defense driver, so much so I am turning my whole company towards it.

The rest of the space can scratch over DaaS opportunities, I will outgrow them all (if we have not already) based on this one single use case.

In my mind cyber-defense is THE killer app for VDI and DaaS, happily my customers are agreeing with me.

Thanks for the BYOD Insights

I had no idea so many employees were willing to pay at least part of the virtualization cost. This article had some great insights. Thanks David!

Maturity of companies

Great post David! It was very insightful.
Could you also comment on the maturity levels of the company or an economy as a whole required for BYOD initiatives. I believe that although this is a great technology to have for any organization, but their readiness levels can be a roadblock to adoption.

Yes, that's an important point

Hi Arvind,

Thank you for your questions. Yes, maturity level of the company is important in making it a priority but not in the effectiveness of a BYOD solution to support flexible workstyles.

When I worked with engineering teams in India several years ago, early on we discovered that the engineers were not being given enough flexibility in either technology (locked-down desktops), or freedom to experiment with new ideas. When we removed these constraints deliberately, and created a culture that encouraged the engineers to experiment with ideas and make mistakes, the maturity level of that engineering team grew orders of magnitude in just a year.

By allowing people more flexibility in workstyles and technology choices for work, they were more motivated to take ownership and either solve problems or generate new ideas. We went from a totally task-driven engineering team to one that took risks and could take on more advanced work.

My point is that by granting flexibility to people, you foster personal growth and intrinsic motivation to improve themselves every day. This is true no matter the economy or culture.