-by Forrest Smith, Dir. Product & Customer Experience
Feb 22, 2017
Some days it feels like Neverware is making old computers into Chromebooks, helping sweep up in the wake of a Google-revolution in education. Some days it feels like we're ushering in a new generation of end-user computing - a discontinuous leap from turbo-boosted processors and terabyte hard drives to the efficiency of the cloud. And still, some days, I get reminded that what we're doing isn't necessarily that new or radical at all.
Neverware has planned, developed, and started deploying CloudReady: VDI Edition over the last few months, and in that process I've gained a tiny peek into the vast world of virtualization. It's given me a sense that CloudReady is, in some ways, a conduit to a pre-existing technological ideal; far from radical.
VDI stands for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure - a term coined by VMware in the mid 2000's that has come to generally refer to the set of vendors and technologies that facilitate users accessing remote, virtual desktops that are used instead of their local device's. A review of various online sources outlining the values of VDI reveals broad consensus around a handful of motivations. I feel they can be impactfully phrased as:
Ultimately, I think CloudReady, young and disruptively-aimed as it is, makes a lot of sense in the mature and stable VDI market because it aims to deliver the very same values.
Let me offer some comparisons:
Despite a worldwide comfort and familiarity with Windows PCs, one of their most reliable features is that they slow down and break over time, weighed down by local storage and resource-intensive apps. In response to this, VDI promises a desktop experience controlled so tightly that it performs reliably, like-new, every time, and keeps the heavy lifting safely in the server's capable hands, so local devices stay snappy and reliable. CloudReady takes advantage of a booming web-productivity market and offloads that same computing strain to servers, but not just one anymore. Spread over dozens of enterprise-grade web- apps and services, CloudReady safeguards device reliability by removing the priamry sources of lag and failure.
Management is a sisyphean mandate for Windows IT admins all over world to restrict, permit, configure, push, and update the perfect combination of settings and software versions, ensuring a distributed fleet of devices somehow all get the message, usually from local servers. In contrast, virtualization offers a centralized environment where the management and the desktops are all in one place, meaning enforcement of policies and updates can be guaranteed regardless of the distribution of users and endpoints. Rapid re-spawning of instances makes also makes risky behavior or bad software updates easy to roll back. consider CloudReady: centralized management from the cloud is fully-integrated, keeping devices in compliance 100% of the time. The virtually-stateless OS architecture lends itself to trivial system refreshes because files, software, and OS are backed up via the cloud and updated automatically over the network, in the background, no matter where you are.
The historical vulnerability of Windows to local and remote attack is nearly mythical at this point, and many VDI solutions offer themselves as the solution to that problem. Containing your desktop environments in a more tightly controlled virtualization server / cloud gives you complete authority over network security and access, as well as the convenience of rapidly destroying and re-deploying any instance that get's into a bad state. Likewise, CloudReady ensures that all processes are sandboxed, limiting them to only the permissions that are strictly necessary. And in the unlikely event that a CloudReady device is compromised, all user data is separately encrypted, and the system can be remotely locked and wiped.
While VDI deployments may look like they're all about making Windows better, I think a comparison to CloudReady shows that, more fundamentally, they are about minimizing the work that a local device has to do, taking advantage growing network sophistication to tap into the power of remote sources. Under that interpretation, it is interesting to note how nicely CloudReady fits into this history of client/server computing.
We built CloudReady to help organizations take advantage the growing wealth of remote, cloud-based resources available to them, and to assert that they don't need to accept the compromises of traditional, local computing. So to put all this another way:
From where I'm standing, VDI servers are just the original cloud.