Published: 12 Nov 2010
Solution provider's takeaway: Today's technologies are changing how endpoints are viewed in the enterprise and creating opportunities for solution providers willing to engage in the PC hardware market. Read how to increase profits from VDI solutions and learn about the product sales and service opportunities that come along with them.
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New technologies are changing the role of the traditional PC as part of enterprise networks, and redefining what exactly a PC is. Usually defined as endpoints, PCs are taking on new roles as client devices that are no longer running traditional client-server applications but are used as devices to access Web applications or server-based computing solutions.
Because of that, solution providers have a unique opportunity to create revenue from new technologies that leverage endpoints. Two particular technology segments seem to have the biggest potential to change the relationship between the traditional PC and the network—Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and web applications.
VDI is becoming one of the more popular technologies to replace traditional client-server computing. With VDI, a desktop runs as a virtual machine (VM) in the data center, while I/O is routed to an endpoint. When executed properly, the endpoint for a VDI solution needs little in the form of processing power, storage or memory. That endpoint can be a traditional PC, thin client, zero client or even another device.
Using VDI solutions to increase revenue
Any one of those devices could be translated into a hardware sale for solution providers pursuing VDI enablement solutions for their customers. But VDI solutions are complex with many moving parts, ranging from hypervisors to connection brokers to display protocols. What's more, those elements tend to come from different vendors and require complex integration.
For solution providers, each element becomes a possible source of revenue, in both product sales and services. But many solution providers have failed to recognize the value of the endpoint when deploying VDI. That's resulted in a missed opportunity to garner a bigger margin while providing a valuable element to the customer.
The ideology behind VDI is to decouple the client hardware from the desktop and present operation systems and applications using virtualization technology that runs on servers in data centers. That converts the desktop PC into little more than a display, keyboard and mouse, with TCP/IP connectivity. That is where the confusion lies. Some market VDI as a way to add management capabilities without having to change endpoints—old PCs prove to be more than adequate to run as a client of a VDI solution. Others market VDI as a way to move over to thin client or zero client computing—eliminating PCs from the equation altogether.
Both methods have strengths and weaknesses. Leveraging old PCs can reduce capex by eliminating the need to purchase additional hardware while the thin client/zero client eliminates the need for PCs entirely. Although those seem like valid benefits, the weaknesses can outweigh the benefits in many cases.
For example, thin clients/zero clients are one-trick ponies in many cases, and they do not provide any disconnected computing capabilities and are usually sealed devices that offer no expansion capabilities. On the other hand, sticking with established PCs does nothing to alleviate management challenges. Administrators will still have to maintain those systems, update them as needed and prepare for failures as the systems age.
Arguably, the only way to maximize VDI benefits is to incorporate an endpoint refresh as part of the deployment. But for that to make fiscal sense, the new endpoints must be inexpensive. That is where netbooks enter the equation.
Enter the Netbook
Netbooks cost less than $300 in most cases, and incorporate enough processing power to act as a disconnected client. They bring portability to computing environments, reduce both the desktop footprint and the energy footprint that PCs require and offer end users the ability to customize their devices.
For some solution providers, justifying the additional expense of $300 may prove to be a sticking point for a successful sale to customers. But there are several benefits that add up to overall savings for the customers, creating a quick return on investment.
One major cost reduction is deployment charges. New netbooks can be preconfigured as VDI clients and shipped directly to end users. That eliminates the expensive, time-consuming effort associated with repurposing existing PCs, which may require software upgrades, hardware changes and other configuration elements to bring them up to VDI specs and a visit to the PC's location.
Netbooks bring other benefits that can translate into savings over time. For example, the systems deployed will be new systems, covered by a warranty—eliminating the need for a service contract purchase for the first year at least or for as long as three years—depending on the manufacturers standard warranty. Netbooks will also run the latest browser, allowing them to run web applications out of the box, while old PCs may require newer browsers to be installed to support the latest web apps. Netbooks also incorporate technologies that can give added functionality to end users. For example, most have integrated webcams, wifi and mic/headset jacks. In a pinch, a netbook can become a VoIP client or even a video conferencing endpoint—giving new capabilities to customers while creating another service opportunity for the solution provider.
VDI Can Boost Security
Endpoints can also enhance security. With the lack of an optical drive and the ability to disable USB ports, end users can be effectively prevented from copying data and taking it off site and from installing unauthorized applications. A secure VDI deployment also helps to ensure that data cannot "leave" the VM and be stored locally on an endpoint—which is one of the tenets of data leakage protection.
On the other hand, if additional hardware needs to be integrated on desktop, netbooks offer USB 2.0 and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing devices such as printers, scanners and other hardware elements to be incorporated—creating additional opportunities for solution providers.
By considering the possibilities, it becomes evident that solution providers can generate profits with a desktop refresh paired with a VDI deployment. Those profits can come in the form of hardware margins, additional services and product sales. At the same time, those technologies can also deliver a return on investment.
About the expert
Frank J. Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology arena. Ohlhorst has worked with all major technologies and accomplished several high-end integration projects in a range of industries, including federal and local governments as well as Fortune 500 enterprises and small businesses. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.