Why has OVH waited until now to launch its Virtual Cloud Desktop solution?
For almost ten years now, we have been speaking about the virtual desktop as a symbol of modern computing. And we predict, nearly each year, its imminent widespread use in business... without reaching the desired effect. Mobility, security, cost reduction and flexibility — the right reasons for implementation have not changed significantly. The same goes for the underlying technologies — though they have not drastically evolved, they have been improved thanks to the arrival of new software publishers like VMware to this market. So, why has OVH waited until 2016 to launch its Virtual Cloud Desktop (Desktop as a Service) and Cloud Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions? François Loiseau, senior cloud architect within the team that developed these solutions, provides some insight.
The cloud has paved the way for virtual desktop
To explain the relative failure of virtual desktop, for a long time we blamed companies’ low Internet bandwidth. Does this explanation still hold true today? “Not really,” states François, "On one side, bandwidth has increased, fiber optics is coming around slowly but surely and alternative solutions are becoming more wide spread, from SDSL to the aggregation of A/VDSL lines. On the other side, progress in video stream compression technologies has helped reduce bandwidth consumption by virtual desktops while improving their quality.” It is possible to watch Youtube videos in 4K on a Virtual Cloud Desktop with a connection of just a few Mbps. “In well-connected countries, like Belgium, the virtual desktop certainly has a slight edge. But the reasons why virtual desktop has not yet attracted the masses lie elsewhere.”
When examining the history of innovations, a pattern emerges. “For an innovation to find its audience, several criteria must be met: a technology about to reach maturity, a price that is becoming affordable to all, and users that are so convinced by the benefits of the product that they are willing to change habits. I am confident that the evolution of enterprise IT over the past years has created a context that is today more favorable for the adoption of virtual desktop.” Indeed, we got into the habit of using applications in SaaS mode, hosting our data in the cloud and accessing them while on the go. To the extent that the very idea of a user moving his/her desktop into the cloud is not as unheard of as it was just a few years ago. “It is always easier to get a clear picture in hindsight, but we must admit that it was a bit audacious to believe, 8 or 10 years ago, that some would be tempted to migrate their desktop—their everyday working tool—into the cloud!” A cloud that, back then, was still very nebulous. “It was necessary to achieve this in a progressive way, one step at a time.” Choosing the name “Virtual Cloud Desktop” for the virtual desktop solution by OVH.com, was not arbitrary. “The concept of the Cloud has become common practice, bringing with it increased simplicity, flexibility… It therefore made sense to talk about Virtual Cloud Desktop rather than virtual desktop.” François goes on to say that at a time when most applications are found “within” the Internet and generate interactions between different pieces of content that are themselves hosted on servers, having one’s desktop in the cloud makes sense after all. “Continuing to work from a local computer, is like working outside the Internet.”
A tool adapted to new forms of work, which makes not only you data and applications available but also your entire desktop environment
When it comes to the office of the future, futurologists can go on and on and they don’t always agree. However, they all raise one key issue—new technologies will continue to disrupt, if not work itself, at least our relation to it. As reflected in this semantic shift: ‘work’ refers less and less to the place where we spend our days but rather more to the output produced through available—mostly digital—tools and the possibility to be in contact with everyone, everywhere, all the time. Of course, here we are speaking about collaborative tools, business software that have already migrated to the cloud and video conferencing solutions and everything that contributed to the mobile working and teleworking boom. “Virtual desktops are in line with these tools.” On top of that, they make it possible to combine and make the most of them.
Until now, mobile or home-based working was defined as having remote access to applications used at the work place and data previously synchronised with storage space in the cloud. Mobile and web applications, for their part, allow users to access these same data and tools (at least main features) from their smartphone or tablet. “Practical and sufficient in some cases, but not all. Do you ever regret not being able to remotely access your own work environment, your applications with the shortcuts and rules you have configured to be more efficient, the document being edited that you thought you saved, the browser with open tabs of your last searches? That is the paradigm shift offered by virtual desktop. Go beyond remotely accessing your tools and data. Bring your full work environment—as you customized it to be more productive—with you.” Could we go so far as to say that up until now, teleworking was a make shift solution? “We used and abused the term ‘mobility’ so much so that now we may have to use superlatives to express what virtual desktop can offer, that is to say super-mobility, hyper-mobility, ubiquity. In short, it makes you feel as if you were in your office, wherever you are!”
Security, the argument that should convince companies
If being able to access, from anywhere and any connected device, a unique workstation is a guarantee of comfort and productivity, it is not the only benefit of Virtual Cloud Desktop. Security is another major argument. “As is often the case, our services mostly result from the emergence of an internal OVH need. In this case, we had to provide developers with Windows machines on which they could be administrators, without compromising the company’s information system.” Having a virtual desktop acting as a sandbox, shared between collaborators of a company, to perform tests or open questionable attachments, is another possible use. But the contribution of Cloud Desktop in terms of security is greater. “When you use a public computer or when your colleagues use their own devices (BYOD), there is always a risk that the credentials they will enter to login to the company’s tools may be intercepted. That is why it is interesting to connect to your virtual desktop, in order to work securely—authentication and browsing are handled through an encrypted connection and it is very easy, from your mobile device for instance, to reset your virtual desktop password once you are done working. ”
Virtual desktop, the end of machine obsolescence?
Flexibility and cost reduction often come up in conversations with virtual desktop marketers. “With good reason,” François confirms. “Some costly applications are used periodically by several members of the same team. Rather than purchasing a license for each workstation, choose a Cloud Desktop on which you will install these applications and give everyone access. For that matter, we are working on multi-session with this in mind.” The example of interns and seasonal workers is just as compelling. “Rather than investing in new hardware, use Cloud Desktop to give a new lease on life to an obsolete computer. The physical workstation is now only used to access virtual desktop through a simple browser or a thick client. The computing power and RAM required to run applications are located on the server that hosts the virtual desktop, the same where data is stored. When on the go, this makes it possible to preserve the battery life of your devices. But above all, companies no longer want to invest in hardware that will need to be amortized, mini-PCs (like Wyse or NUC) are more than sufficient. The costs are becoming much more foreseeable for companies, and the obsolescence of existing machines that has long been dictated by Moore’s law is delayed by several—even around 10—years!”
Of course, business applications will continue to become increasingly powerful, and therefore resource intensive, leveraging the future developments of processors. But upgrading virtual desktops is painless for businesses. Where required, a few clicks are enough to upgrade your Cloud Desktop configuration, with the possibility to migrate your data. “In the end, we apply to workstations the same principle as was popularized by software solution developers. Rather than investing in a costly license that will quickly become obsolete, we offer a subscription plan on a pay-as-you-go basis, that makes it possible to always have the most updated version. Following the example of what we offer with Office 365, SharePoint or Exchange (additional options for the Cloud Desktop offer).” On paper, virtual desktop is a highly rational choice. What is left is to overcome the last psychological barriers, such as the physical attachment someone can feel for his/her computer. “If it helps you feel better, you will always need a physical device to access your Cloud Desktop—something you will be able to put stickers on. However, I cannot guarantee that, 10 years from now, it will still be a computer. After all, more smartphones are being sold than computers today…” Laurent Decool, product manager of the Cloud Desktop offer, adds, “Keep in mind that, today, the leading global hotel group doesn’t own any hotels, and the largest private hire group doesn’t own any cars. To succeed, why would we need to trouble ourselves with a stock of computers to manage, maintain and renew, when all that really matters these days is no longer the ownership of devices but their use?”