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Why 2020 won’t be the year of the virtual desktop

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/bluebay)

It won’t come as a surprise that emerging tech has continued to be a dominant trend in enterprise IT this year. Particularly noteworthy for MSPs is the continued emergence of virtual desktops, with Microsoft making its Windows Virtual Desktop generally available for the first time in September.

Virtual desktop (VDs) have the potential to transform how Managed Service Providers (MSPs) manage enterprise IT environments. A workplace shift towards cloud-based virtual desktops removes the need for MSPs to manage hardware and places a new urgency on establishing and protecting virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

Although there is plenty of industry hype around VDs, MSPs can’t forget that not everyone is on the same technological trajectory. So, while VDs will be a priority for some, there are still plenty of businesses that are using older, and often, outdated technology. And it is events like the end of support date for Windows 7 early next year, for example, that are sure to become a headache for MSPs in 2020.

This means that for MSPs, the focus for next year is unlikely to be on the mass adoption of VDs—instead, it will be managing the pace of technological change for their customers.

The slow road to virtualisation

There are a number of reasons why 2020 won’t be the year of VDs. The first is that the move to VDs is more than a routine operating system migration—it’s a shift from on-premises to a completely virtualised way of working. And while doing so holds many benefits; from improved security to greater flexibility for employees, in reality most businesses today continue to take an on-premises approach to IT. VDs aren’t new technology, but they mark a significant break away from the status quo—and it’s one that a lot of businesses simply aren’t interested in pursuing.

That’s not to say that we aren’t edging closer to a VD world. In the past, the idea of regular IT users becoming accustomed to VDs seemed strange. But today, many employees are using web-based apps in their everyday jobs. The concept of a fully web-based desktop no longer seems farfetched—it’s just not one we will be seeing in the next 12 months.

The unreliability of global internet connectivity is another stumbling block for mass VD adoption. Despite all their benefits, the one thing VDs require is a constant network connection. Unlike a physical desktop, where users can log in and access files saved to their hard drive with or without internet connection, simply logging into a VD requires network connectivity. For businesses based in smaller towns, or with branches in these towns, consistent bandwidth often isn’t available—an obvious red flag for VD adoption. Blanket network coverage needs to become the norm before we see mass VD adoption.

Life after support

While MSPs may have to offer some support for VDs, it won’t be the core focus of 2020—events like the end of support date for Windows 7 will actually be much more disruptive. 

Many would believe that the end of outdated technology means one less thing for MSPs to worry about. But a recent Kaspersky survey found that 41 per cent of consumers still use unsupported or nearly expired operating systems. So, what happens once January 14th passes, and a high percentage of businesses are still likely to be using the out of support operating system?

Microsoft tows a hard line on its end of support dates but, in the past, it has been forced to issue emergency patches for out of support systems to prevent catastrophic security incidents. This May, it released a patch for Windows XP—five years after its end of support date—to sew up a vulnerability that has been compared to the devasting WannaCry malware.

Microsoft may well want to stick to its guns and stop issuing patches for Windows 7 in 2020—but major flaws and vulnerabilities could leave the company in a difficult position. The best course of action for MSPs is to avoid the chaos and encourage all customers to migrate to Windows 10 right away. But getting customers to upgrade to newer technology isn’t always easy.

For MSPs, this means having more tools in the armoury. With technology developing, not only must they have the tools and the technical expertise to support new technology, they must ensure they’re keeping up with old technology, too.

The everchanging MSP toolkit

While each and every business is on its own technological journey, the shift to the cloud and services like Office 365 are increasingly becoming the norm. There is of course a benefit in this for MSPs—long gone are the days of managing complex applications for customers’ mail. But the move from managing infrastructure to services and virtual machines in the cloud also comes with difficulties.

Some claim that the shift to the cloud and virtualised working removes the need for IT staff all together; but in fact, the opposite happens. The skills gap is exacerbated by new technologies, as new solutions outpace the skills development of the workforce—which makes MSPs and IT partners even more important.

As businesses shift their ways of working, it is important for MSPs to remember that every customer is different. Some will be more on the serverless side while others will still be running a legacy architecture—and this means that MSPs need technicians with the skills to manage both.

This issue can be a pain point for MSPs. Ultimately, MSPs need the tools and solutions that allow them to monitor, and make sense of, cloud-based IT networks. Such visibility will be essential for any MSP looking to guarantee security for clients—regardless of where their customers are in their technological journey today, next year, or in years to come.

Mav Turner, Group Vice President of Products, SolarWinds MSP