Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) runs a user desktop operating system inside a virtual machine that resides on a centralized server in a datacenter. It allows each user to have a personalized desktop with all the security, simplicity, and flexibility of centralized administration. By centralizing desktops, which users can access on any device with time and location independence, the technology streamlines operations, promotes mobility, and cuts costs.
A VDI deployment is not necessarily a small or easy undertaking for every organization. This is not because it is difficult to understand or implement. Companies must know what they are getting themselves into before starting any project and virtualization is no exception. One should realize that technology is by no means a one-size-fits-all solution. Vendors make personalized recommendations based on industry, budget, and customer demands.
While there are many VDI success stories, you may come across some not-so-pleasant experiences with migrating to the platform. Today, we shall cover some common reasons why virtualization projects do not meet the cut and the steps businesses can take to avoid this.
Whether you are preparing to make the switch or just doing your homework, understand how VDI works, and identify your hardware, storage, and computing needs. Create performance goals, make a concise plan, and prioritize scalability. For instance, rolling out 20-30 virtual desktops is fairly simple, but can one guarantee a similar result if the process involves large numbers, say, 500-2000? Things can get tricky here especially if users expect their virtual desktops to perform just like physical desktops. This is all the more so because virtualization is, at its core, PC replacement technology. So, if your end-users notice any issues or discrepancies, they will be unhappy.
Let’s consider a scenario. When your users connect to their virtual desktops, they utilize connection brokers with remote display protocols like PCoIP, HDX, RDP, or Blast Extreme. These protocols connect to virtualized desktops hosted on powerful hosts/servers which are fed data from all-flash storage. What’s more, the system is backed by 10GbE networking that provides incredible bandwidth. From general usage to teamwork and multimedia applications, everyone receives full coverage. All this sounds good, at least till what happens next.
Your users log on, click on an application, and find that everything is running fast. Once they open a certain number of applications and use them all at the same time, you will hear concerns about speed or the virtual desktops themselves. The IT department tests the desktops, VDI software, storage, and networking, and makes a few adjustments for a quick performance boost. So, virtualization is not behind the problem, but your users are dissatisfied. Why?
It is important to treat the virtualization initiative as not only a project but also an overall solution. The issue is caused by the remaining infrastructure that hosts the applications your users rely on. Hence, completeness is crucial. You need a hardware solution and storage revamp to accommodate your applications. There will be IT anxiety if a desktop responds at 5ms latency with IOPS on-demand. Couple this with and an app that responds at the 50-200ms range and no specific IOPS, and what do you get? Expect boot storm-related challenges if you do not have the required storage for your deployment. With so many users trying to sign on simultaneously, their desktops will eventually saturate the IOPS capacity of your server.
One must balance data and desktop performance at all times, and in this case, delivering great UX boils down to storage. With all-flash storage, administrators can take storage off of the spinning disks of HDDs and put it onto an all-flash array (AFA). Note that virtualization can cause disruptions at the storage layer. So, take care not to mix the technology and databases on the same storage. Focus on a multi-tenant storage platform, which can easily host your VDI data infrastructure, app data, files, documents, ERP, CRM, and other databases. Combining data center apps and virtualization brings operational efficiency and predictable application performance without the hassle of data migration. This kind of scenario where one implements flash-based storage with VDI is entirely possible, considering the reduced prices of SSDs and advancements in supporting technologies.
Tip: Other than IOPS, evaluate user consumption patterns on existing physical devices. Identify how operating systems use metrics like CPU, memory, applications, device hardware, and network resources. Collecting this information over a long-time period will not only give you a fair idea of what users need from a hypervisor perspective. You will gain valuable insights into growth rates, software inventory, virtual images that need optimization, and the exact environment administrators must architect over the upcoming years. These measures prevent the risk of building too much or too little hardware which can result in wasted resources and poor UX respectively.
Simply going through the steps of VDI architecture is not enough. It may seem like you are in an excellent position if you have performed an assessment, optimized your image, and chosen the right hardware for your deployment. Not surprisingly, companies do get lured into making the grave mistake of adding extra users in an environment once their virtualization projects reach maturity. More often than not, this step is either unplanned or a calculated risk. Adding a few hundred users appears to be a trivial matter if we talk about a 1000 user environment. However, what works for companies over the short term may backfire down the line. Let’s look at the reason.
When designing an implementation plan, vendors generally assign more resources than VDI needs to account for long-term growth. Enterprises will see an increase in most system resources around, say, 5-10% annually, including CPU usage, IOPS consumption, and memory. This is a perfectly normal thing to happen when application enhancements, software, and image updates feed on more resources. So, although adding additional users may be manageable for a while, it can lead to massive system bottlenecks 2-3 years down the road.
Tip: testing is the name of the game when it comes to properly configure a VDI environment. Apply it to every layer of the deployment, from image optimization to app delivery, connection broker functionality, system updates, and similar fields. Do not attempt to economize when you see your VDI rollout gaining traction. Two common examples are directly jumping from a Proof of Concept (POC) or Pilot scenario to a production environment and application owners not performing VDI software functionality tests.
Start with establishing a base level of virtualization functionality. Map the applications that are the most challenging to virtualize so that you can budget time, resources, and, if necessary, vendor assistance into the rollout. Next, assign a specific group of users access to the environment so that they can gauge its usefulness in their workloads. This process also allows administrators to troubleshoot any likely issues reported by users. Finally, make the move to production once all the POC and Pilot milestones have been achieved.
Divide And Conquer
Users are typically more resistant to changes in their desktop experience as compared to administrators. One of the biggest blunders one can make is to conclude that every user will interact with VDI in the same manner. For example, HR executives and graphic designers will access their virtual desktops differently than sales specialists who travel often. Generally, HR professionals work on-premises and require standard applications. Traveling sales representatives access the network from different locations and use standard CRM and office apps. Power users such as graphic designers regularly collaborate with clients offsite and demand specialized applications.
In any case, consider where employees will access their virtual desktops, the applications they need, and if they need to access the network offline. After identifying all user groups, collect feedback on roles and responsibilities so that they understand what virtualizing systems can do for them. Make sure that IT enforces different security policies, control access, and other elements on their desktops.
This brings us to yet another point. Today, businesses cannot afford to employ old tools and techniques in managing IT environments. Doing so means that departments may be siloed or kept isolated from one another in such a way that they appear to be separate business entities. Teams must function without friction in virtualization and for this, an enterprise should define a champion who ensures that everyone works together to accomplish tasks and overcome problems. This individual must have the authority to create VDI groups and appoint representatives from different teams who can accept new assignments and introduce new ways of doing things. This requires time, effort, and patience in the early stages especially if employees are comfortable using PCs. Eventually, things will pay off in the long run when they begin to realize the true benefits of VDI.
Tip: instill a sense of ownership in employees by involving them in the VDI integration process so that they advocate the technology. Encourage them to participate in the initial planning and continue this through full implementation and beyond. When new systems arrive in a VDI setup, users expect different gear but all they get is a fresh interface. Ease the transition by giving them the relevant gadgets to work with at the start so that virtualized systems feel rewarding and similar to previous technology updates. If feasible, explain the IT administrative costs which businesses save on and demonstrate how employee satisfaction rises as a result of a thoroughly integrated and user-friendly system.
This is by no means a conclusive list of the stumbling blocks that are responsible for VDI failure. Research whether the technology is right for your business before making a move and plan for the future. Most importantly, consult with a professional before coming to a decision so that you know what best suits your unique requirements.
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