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The SMB VDI challenge. Part #1: The pain. Local Prem vs. Area Hosting vs. Public Cloud

Your options to move to the Cloud in Hungary.

This is based on a true and personal story. A friend Éva, is in trouble during the holidays, because her prem server has stopped on 23rd December. She asked for my help.

Why me? Am I authentic?

I worked with Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition 23 years ago at Ericsson Hungary. To support remote people to work via VPN from home on a Windows environment. Secure Remote Work – this is how Microsoft calls it in 2021.

Nearly 15 years ago I had my own service provider offering “CloudPC” from my private hardware investments located in a Hosting Datacenter based in Hungary (I paid for colocation). I used lots of open-source software at that time. I met the Microsoft SPLA program to resell Windows from my own hardware to customers. I burnt lots of my private money on physical hardware to gain a little experience. My wife still pushes me for that decision, one day she might forgive me.

Over the last 7 years at Microsoft, I was working with Cloud Migrations and learned a lot about Virtual Desktop options in Azure. I took the AZ-140 exam recently. I was working on several partner-driven projects at Microsoft on Windows/Azure Virtual Desktop and saw recent Windows 365 announcements before I left Microsoft.

Most recently at Ingram Cloud CEE – as part of contract/technical mentoring – we are still researching the same thing with my stunning new peers responsible for building mainly small business part of Amazon Web Services. We learned a lot together; we built labs; we did the price calculation challenge together; we spoke to partners and customers. The question has not been changed over the time: It’s it worth moving SMB workloads (line of business applications and file servers) to Cloud?

I am curious what Google’s GCP or Oracle’s OCI can bring into the conversation. I would like to validate if Alibaba Cloud is mature enough and their price point is still a strong conversation starter among the customers.

Join me for the research!

What are the VDI options for an SMB customer?

When I closed my hosting shop nearly 15 years ago (offering Azure Virtual Desktop or Amazon Workspaces similar hosted on my own hardware) I offered multiple options for my customers to continue their workloads. It was not about my loss. It was about offering them the best possible options at a given time.

The options I offered that time;

OPTION A – buy your own hardware and get an admin who maintains: buy new or used servers; build an on-prem equivalent of my hosting shop; I help you with the migration from my multi-tenant to your single-tenant; I quit this so please find an admin for you who will maintain your workloads. Do not call me please professionally, you can call me as a friend.

OPTION B – migrate your workloads to my hosting competitors in town – stay in hosting; I was providing a list of my competitors; small ones and large ones; with their pricing on VPS (virtual private server). No connection broker. Jut VMs.

OPTION C – go to “Cloud”. Whatever Cloud was in Hungary 15 years ago. Some AWS. No Azure. No VDI in Cloud.

Guess what was the response 15 years ago?

10 out of 10 customers purchased their own hardware seemed the cheapest option given time. Most of them called me years later that my hosting services were a way more relaxing time in their lives and owning their own local hardware it not. I understand. I was there. I had my own hardware. 1500kg. 3 full racks. SAN, everything. Some of them found great agile fantastic admins at a reasonable price. Some of them become the hostage of their admins asking for more salary while sitting on-prem admin credentials.

What about the customer? Fairness? Kindness? Empathy? Price and value.

On December 23th, 2021 one of my previous customers and friend (Éva) called her sysadmin (Zoltán) and she reported that her server is down. I told her, one day this machine will stop. Maybe the power unit (even redundant) maybe the mainboard. Whatever. The day came, no surprise. The single server failed she picked that time, as the lowest-priced option to support her business. First reaction: is there any data loss? Hopefully no. Frequent backups in place. RTO is low, one day (or as long as a new similar server and full recovery take). RPO is medium. We all agreed on this (on paper). It’s not my responsibility if she goes out of business because of IT. Daily block-based backups of VMs. Multiple backups of files a day. External disks. No replication. No clustering/HA/fault tolerance nodes. They need to continue business operations on the 3rd of January, 2022 whatever the root cause is. They called me for advice. Great. I help, because she is my friend, and I care. And this is a great example and learning for everyone reading.

I am in enterprise presales for a decade. I spoke to 5-500K people shops executives. I called Éva and wanted to understand what has been changed since we worked together and how I can help her. I prepared and asked as smart and intelligent questions (except for Q2 should go to admin, Zoltán) to understand their business requirements today. The owner needs to understand my questions and answer questions needs to be short crisp and clean.

My essential questions including her answers:

Q1: How many of you working in the shop and how many need to connect parallel to a Windows Windows box?

A: It is 4 people here. We work 9-17h. Sometimes people connect late afternoon or weekend if an emergency came.

Q2: How much RAW data do you have in gigabytes stored on the file server?

A: What is RAW data, Honey? I have no idea. Ask my admin, Zoltán.

Q3: Can you please name the line of business applications your business is using?

A: Yes sure. The primary app is called XYZ.

Q4: What about Acrobat Reader? Office applications? Total Commander? WinZip?

A: Yes, all of them, please. I have Gmail as well.

Q5: What are you doing during business hours?

A: We are working with the apps I told you, Honey. Well, sometimes we do print. On paper. We have printers here.

Q6: Thank you, let me come back to you with potential options. I try to fix your server first helping your admin. I still have 500kg of spare parts/servers in my garage. But I am not enjoying this anymore. It does not differentiate me on the market anymore.

A: Thank you, happy holidays and sorry for calling you with my trouble.

My next blog article is about the possible solutions with architecture designs and price tags on them. Hopefully value for the people who have been or will be in such a situation.

Stay with me; this is good stuff! I hope you enjoyed reading!

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