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Endpoint Virtualization Community Blog

Cloud Computing Isn't Always a Solution

Created: 16 May 2012 • Updated: 16 May 2012
SebastiaanvdM's picture
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This article uses popular statements done by the people selling Cloud Computing to explain what cloud computing is and most of all is not. This includes, but is not limited to, VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure).

Although Cloud computing is far from the Holy Grail it is said to be, I do believe it is the way to go. A big reality check however is in order. That is why I use the most popular advertisement slogans to give my opinion on the matter.

Even though I do not believe this is the only truth, it is a way to view Cloud Computing in any and all forms. You of course are allowed to make up your own mind. Please do, even. But do consider the given statements and the truth behind these statements.

Are these really the reasons you want/need Cloud? Then I would highly advise you to think again.

Then again: maybe the reasons are valid. Cloud Computing does offer interesting possibilities. The article in no-way truly debunks Cloud Computing as a solution, it just gives some realistic views on popular incorrect statements about Cloud Computing.

Cloud is new!

Cloud Computing has been around for nearly 30 years now. Back in the day when computers started to emerge, the first kind of useful office computer was a mainframe. Besides being as big as an average office, which was quite unpractical, they were expensive.

Besides the impossibility of putting that on your desk, the mainframe had to be shared. So the user got a thin client on his desk, from which he connected to the session on the mainframe. Thin clients were a lot cheaper then mainframes, disposable and a heck of a lot smaller to put on your desk.

And today, using Cloud? We put a big server somewhere, to which a user can connect, using a thin client or now-a-days an internet connection and he or she is sharing that server with several others, using a form of sessions (be it VDI or Terminal Server).

So is there so much difference? Really?

It’s back to the good old days, instead of a step forward. Only difference is the deliverance of the user interface. Mind you: a step backwards isn’t always bad. The prizes changed, Internet is a commodity and almost always available, so the step is logical at this point in time to start working again through these principals.

Everything changes!

Does it? Do we stop putting users on the network? Don’t the users need software? Do they stop jamming the printer?

Bring Your Own Device is portrayed as solving an old problem: users destroy their desktops on a regular basis.

Instead of solving the problem (the user), we tell them that they can use what ever device they wish, but we stop managing them. Problem solved.

Or not? Does a user do all his or her work on that device? No: he uses it to connect to a VDI or Terminal Server. So his or her workspace isn’t the own brought device. It is the central environment, where the real work takes place.

So instead of managing the thing on the desktop of the user, we have a virtual workplace, which still needs to be managed, updated, installed and (dare I say it?) fixed. The fixes differ a bit from fixing a desktop computer. But with today's technology there was no reason for fixing desktops either.

With a correct functioning domain and some proper tooling reinstalling a users desktop is easier than fixing it. Streaming images (Ghost anyone?), software virtualization or even KIX scripts and domain policies already solved this!

So managing a VDI environment or Terminal Server environment is the same as managing a properly tooled and installed fat environment. And users will still break their machines, will still jam printers and will keep calling you for assistance.

The biggest difference: users can’t slap their computer anymore, saving a lot of hard drives a needless death.

The new way of work can be installed

This is also known under the term “Alternative Workplace Strategies”. It consists of employees working from everywhere and anywhere, in hours they find suitable for their work. This allows an employee to plan his own day, around family, traffic jams and appointments.

Cloud computing can be part of such a change, but is not the main part of it. Cloud enabling a company does not make it suited for the new way of work.

The real change is in the bowels of a company: managing an employee. Instead of paying an employee for hours logged in the office, the employee must be given targets. When he or she accomplishes those targets, he or she has done his or her work, no matter how many hours he or she spent on accomplishing those targets.

So there is no installer that will install “the new way of work” for you. It is a choice by the management, changing rewarding and reviewing. A cloud can then be put up to facilitate the changes, not the other way around. Cloud is not the solution; it simply allows the solution to be implemented.

We’ll save costs using the cloud

As established in a previous paragraph: we still manage users and their desktops, just in another way.

They will still jam printers, break software or need additional software and will still call your helpdesk to ask questions about using the software and hardware (on whatever level your user is).

Besides that, you will need additional licenses for your servers, for your VDI’s and for the thin clients. They do last longer than traditional desktops, so hurray!

The hardware needed for a desktop computer is about € 400,00, buying you a brand new computer, that a user can use for about 3 years. This brings the annual cost down to approximately € 133,00, including a Windows license.

Calculating licensing and server hardware for a VDI environment is essential. The costs using a calculation model made by Citrix for Citrix VDI-in-a-Box brings the yearly cost per user (estimated 100 users) to approximately € 160,00 including hardware, the connection software and a Windows license. Using other VDI specialized vendors it even goes up to about € 500,00, primarily by needing a SAN that costs a ton. The SAN is needed for the amount of IOPS (Input/output per second), to prevent it from becoming the bottle neck in your environment.

These numbers are of course temporary and globally. They change from day to day and from situation to situation, so check before you implement. But assuming you will save money is unlikely if you just guess. Just keep in mind: it is statistically unlikely to win the lottery, but it is still possible.

We virtualized our servers, we can do the same with our clients

This comparison makes just about as much sense as stating you can go drive rally cars, because you have your drivers’ license.

The demands on hardware and software are completely different when virtualizing desktops, in comparison to servers. Instead of slow and steady, which is great for servers, you are looking for lean and mean. The faster the storage the more virtualized desktops you can provide. And really: who cares if a desktop is dropped and the user has to log in again? Although it would be quite annoying to the user, the impact is far less then dropping a virtual server due to a mistake in storage.

Redundancy is very much wanted in server virtualization. High availability, RAID-5, Fault Tolerance even, are very useful in server virtualization. But would they still be needed, if a user is working on a VDI? A VDI which is a cloned copy of a golden image and completely disposable?

Even though the consideration of the above techniques and configuration might seem useful, they are ultimately a waste of money, resources and speed. RAID-5 is way slower than for instance RAID-0.

Please do not be tempted to use one platform for both purposes (server and client virtualization). The purpose of both platforms is quite different and the demands on the systems are equally so. Would you install an Exchange server on a client desktop in a production environment? You are essentially doing the same when combining the platforms for Server Virtualization and Client Virtualization.

Divide the two: the environment for VDI should just be that. VDI’s, with or without management servers (which could be considered management, so servers). So the quick and disposable clients are all located on the same servers, server farm, SAN, what ever hardware you need.

The servers are located on different physical hardware, available to the desktop environment as normal. Not part of the desktop environment. This environment is slow and steady, no tolerance for mistakes and high available.

Management servers and webservers needed to make the desktops available to the users are an exception to this rule. They are part of the desktop environment and should be located there for quick communication with the desktop servers. These should be redundant, RAID-5, but not located on the same physical servers as the desktops, since they need RAID-0 or RAID-10.

So now what?

Alright, Cloud isn’t everything. It definitely is not the perfect solution to every situation. But how do you find out if it is for you?

The intent of this document is not to completely debunk Cloud Computing. Just take into consideration whether what you are told is the truth, or marketing talking. Cloud Computing does offer some interesting possibilities, which in the long run might outshine the disadvantages or the extra costs involved.

Use an independent company to find out what the true costs are and what you are getting for your buck. Make requirements or let your IT consultant make them and see which product truly delivers. Ask for demos, proof of concepts and do not be fooled. If you ask for a demo, get the specs of the demo environment. It would hardly be a challenge if the demo environment is a Blade center, to show you that you can use your dual core server to do something. Be realistic and skeptical, you are talking with marketing people, or sales people.

Creating a requirements document is a full time job. So is getting real quotes and real demos. You can dedicate someone in your own IT department to this, but independent contractors can do it faster and more accurately then redirected IT personnel. Make sure you have a proper design before moving to any implementation phase and assure yourself your IT personnel has the required knowledge to manage the environment or reserve training budget.

And then… Perhaps then a form of Cloud Computing will be a good solution to fit your needs and wishes, growth or shrink. And maybe not. Maybe it is better to stop following the trend and just use a solution that solves your problems. The Cloud is available, but do you need it? The choice is yours!