Is Windows 10 the biggest threat to VDI user experience?
Let’s start with a statement that I love Windows 10, it’s a great OS and our recent #VDILIKEAPRO test results clearly illustrates this. Currently, Windows 7 is still the dominant OS in the world but in February, Windows 10 already bypassed Windows 8 / 8.1 and continues to grow (source). Participating in early releases since the days of Windows XP, I’ve become pretty accustomed to this trend though—you know the one where every other release has been pretty lackluster compared to its n-1 predecessor.
End of regular support of Windows 7 has ended in January 2015 and extended support will end in January 2020 (source). Sooner or later, any IT enterprise will be forced to upgrade to Windows 10. This new OS offers many new features but it also introduces a dramatic change in the way that enterprise IT is confronted with updates for their virtualized desktop environments. How will this impact enterprise IT and what is the best way for IT departments to deal with this change?
Previous operation systems like Windows XP, Windows 7 and 8.1 offered a clear upgrade path. Every couple of years, a major version of the Windows OS was made available and IT departments had enough time to respond to this update and prepare all of their applications. Especially for big enterprises with many business critical applications, an upgrade from one version of Windows to another was a massive undertaking and required a lot of work. But because of the low frequency of major updates, most companies were able to do this in a controlled way every couple of years.
Windows 10: a major game changer
The world of enterprise IT has fundamentally changed since the introduction of Windows 10. The major game changer of this version in comparison to the previous ones is the fact that Windows 10, like most cloud-based SaaS offerings, will follow more of a ‘continuous development’ release and development stream and now feels more like “Windows as a Service”. Instead of major upgrades every 5 to 6 years, Microsoft is planning to continue to build and expand on Windows 10 by offering updates every six to nine months! Could this be the last major version of Windows for a very long time?
This is great because it allows Microsoft to become much more agile and introduce new innovations (e.g. Cortana) and big updates in a much faster way. But based on the updates of Windows 10 so far, we can clearly see that these upgrades are not small. Typically these updates consist of 20,000 to 40,000 file changes. That sounds like a major upgrade to me and this means that it can have a dramatic impact on the performance of your VDI environment. Keep in mind that even if the performance impact is relatively small, it will be compounded to a greater impact when you are talking about 100 – 200 desktops per server.
As with any continuous development practice, feedback is a great way to arrive at brilliant software and super important to Microsoft—that’s why they use several “test” cycles before the final version with all the new features becomes available. If you are wondering what this all means to enterprises, Windows 10 will move through at least three branches before the update becomes available to businesses:
- Internal testing audience
- External: Windows Insider preview branch
- External: Current branch (millions of consumers)
- Current Branch for Businesses (CBB)
Windows 10 Release Cycles
Even in the business branch, system administrators can stage new versions to a select audience within their own organization before they deploy the update to everyone. This allows you to test the latest version of Windows 10 on a small scale and scale it up from there. Sounds great right?
There is a catch…
But there is a catch… Microsoft releases a new CBB every 6 to 9 months, but Microsoft doesn’t want to continue to support all of these CBB’s, so they made a very clear statement that they will only support the last two CBB’s. This means that they basically force you to update your version of Windows every 12 to 18 months.
In the past, IT department could decide to just use the current version of Windows and no longer upgrade until they are ready, but this is no longer the case with Windows 10. Microsoft only allows you to postpone one update. In the image below you can see the current branch for business (CBB) upgrade path of Windows 10.
Windows Release Management System for Current Branch for Business (CBB)
For example, your organization is currently using CBB version 4. Six months from now, Microsoft will release version 5. Since you are running version 4, you are allowed to skip this one. But when Microsoft releases version 6 in a year from now, you are forced to upgrade to 5 or 6 because only the two latest versions are supported. I know what you’re thinking… “it’s hard enough to keep up with Windows Updates because they potentially carry an impact to my line of business apps, which means more testing… Ugh…”. Don’t worry… keep reading…
How to manage EUX with Windows 10? #VDIops
Previous test results already showed that upgrading from one version of Windows to another can have a big positive or negative impact on the performance and end user experience of your VDI environment. The only way to know the impact of these changes in your own environment is to test, so it will be mandatory for enterprise IT to test every application every year instead of every four years to deal with these forced Windows 10 updates. For a big enterprise with many (customized) applications, this is not an easy task and I guess that many companies will probably hope for the best when applying updates… Whoops.
In my opinion, this fundamentally new way of releasing Windows updates also requires a fundamentally different approach to the way we manage change. That’s why we recently introduced a new concept to manage the virtual desktop environment and we call this #VDIops. This concept is based on the many principles of DevOps such as minimum viable product and continuous delivery but it’s specifically focused at VDI.
In case you need to manage the impact of Windows 10 in your virtualized desktop environment, I would highly encourage you to watch the recording of our previous “New School VDI, the DevOps way” webinar to gain a paradigm shift in the way you can manage your VDI environment.