Does “Offline VDI” Make Sense?
Lately, I have been working in the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) space a lot. I have noticed everybody talking about offline capabilities and how badly needed this feature is in VDI. In my eyes, offline VDI is a mix up of two topics: offline provisioning and VDI. In this article, I’d like to expand on this to explain my scepticism as to the applicability of VDI to mobile devices. Explanation of Offline VDI Offline VDI denotes a relatively new facet of VDI in which a mobile user's device (e.g. a notebook) is serviced with the same image regardless of his network connection. While in the office, such a user accesses his workspace using VDI based on a certain image. Being a mobile worker the image is streamed to the notebook allowing for instant disconnects and offline productivity. Vendors like Citrix and VMware are currently working on client hypervisors which enable the execution of a virtualized workspace on the end user device without requiring a full-blown operating system underneath. These are called tier 1 hypervisors as they are executed on the bare metal. In contrast to current implementations of hypervisors, client hypervisors differ as they offer full control over running virtual machines using the locally attached peripheral devices (e.g. keyboard and mouse). Using such a client hypervisor, administrators are not required to provide an image customized for the hardware components available in the device. Instead the client hypervisor offers an abstracted view on the hardware and, thereby, allows for a single image to be used to provision a centralized and a mobile client. In addition to the client hypervisor, vendors also need to implement an intelligent and flexible synchronization mechanism to provision a whole image on a mobile device while it is connected to the network and backup all changes to the central store as soon as it reconnects. Categorizing Users The enterprises I work with give out notebooks to their users to allow for mobility or, to be more accurate, to enable getting their work done while being outside of the office. Therefore, there are several types of users to deal with in a concept concerning workspace delivery:
- Task Workers. Such an employee would be services using a thin client to access a centralized workspace provided primarily on terminal servers. These often represent the largest user group with a very well defined set of applications. There may be different sub groups with individual requirements but they are often satisfied by few additional applications.
- Knowledge Workers. In contrast to task workers, these perform very specialized tasks differing greatly among each other by requiring additional and often costly applications as well as special peripherals. In addition, they are usually much less in numbers, but the importance of their work to the business justifies customized workspaces to be managed. Nowadays, knowledge workers mostly work on fat clients but are ideal candidates for accessing a VDI based workspace because they are able to profit from the advantages like higher performance and extended permissions offered by VDI solutions.
- Mobile Workers. Some employees need to be able to perform their tasks without a permanent connection to the company network. This may be due to working in the field, being a VIP in the enterprise or due to special agreements like home office.
- How quickly can the user’s image be synchronized to a mobile device?
- Is access to data transparent while working offline?
- Does the user require support to synchronize data to the mobile device?
- Is data automatically transferred to the network drives on the company network?