May 20, 2013, 8:39 PM — As the IT infrastructure manager at Digital Intelligence Systems LLC (DISYS), an IT solutions company, I recently initiated the build-out of a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to support our large mobile workforce, and learned some important lessons along the way that may help smooth the way for your VDI rollout.
Here are three key recommendations to get going:
" First and foremost, you have to know your technology environment and make sure you have the right infrastructure in place. In our case, we were already running a highly virtualized data center, so VDI would require additional infrastructure but a ground-up rebuild. But, can your infrastructure support VDI now and into the future? To answer this question, you have to clearly understand your intended use cases. What are current storage and processing needs? How many users do you intend to deploy VDI to? What will your deployment look like in six months or a year?
[ VIRTUAL DESKTOPS:User tips from the trenches]
" Second, study the end users at your company. Look at the employees in each department. Make your decision based on usage of different devices and applications, and whether employees in given departments are mobile or rarely travel. This will help you determine ahead of time whether or not a group of employees is a good test case for a VDI pilot program.
" Third, if the technology environment and the end users are right, execute a pilot VDI program. A pilot will allow you to see what works and what doesn't, and will help with mitigating risk when full deployment occurs. In the long run, a pilot will allow you to deploy a VDI infrastructure that is more cost-effective and more on-target with the needs of employees and, ultimately, customers.
Keeping a VDI pilot flying
During a VDI pilot, a number of challenges and issues are bound to arise. Here is what we learned along the way:
" First, we had to deal with the reality that not all departments were really ready or even a good fit for VDI.
" Second, we had to overcome the fact that not all applications and IT programs in the enterprise supported VDI or made sense. For example, Photoshop in the marketing department was not transferable to VDI. In addition, we found that VDI would not work successfully for employees in remote locations that did not have access to a 4G network.
" Third, we didn't realize how much storage some departments were using -- especially upper management!
Ultimately, we came to the realization that to support the full VDI initiative and several other internal IT projects, we needed to upgrade our core infrastructure.
We opted to use VMware vSphere 5.1 as our virtualization platform in conjunction with VMware View 5.1. VMware View 5.1 provides many new features and enhancements that further extend the core capabilities of vSphere. Among these are:
" Access to the virtual desktop via any web browser without the need for a client.
" Notable improvements in the areas of host security, logging, monitoring and deployment.
" New VMware vSphere vMotion capabilities that enable virtual machines to be migrated between hosts and clusters with no shared storage.
" Support for the latest processors and guest operating systems (OS).
To control data and usage in our VDI environment, we were determined to follow the non-persistent desktop model for 80% of the users. A non-persistent desktop is a virtual desktop that does not maintain personalized settings or any other changes made by the end user. Each time the end user logs on, they get a fresh, generic virtual desktop image.
The primary benefit of this type of virtual desktop, compared to a persistent desktop, is that it requires less storage and is much easier to manage, since there is only one base image to maintain.
Thanks to what we discovered during the pilot phase of our VDI initiative, we are continually re-evaluating the IT tools and applications we are using. We also have a better understanding of how to manage expectations around the VDI deployment. In addition, VDI has paved the way for a better "bring your own device" (BYOD) mobile implementation strategy.
Already, we have been able to cut costs around having to buy, ship, install and maintain new computers. VDI supports all devices, and we can provision users in 20 to 30 minutes versus the time it takes to do things the "old-fashioned" way.
But the bottom line on our VDI deployment is that it allows DISYS to better control our data. As a result, we can stay focused on securing and managing the company's data -- our most important strategic asset -- instead of worrying about what to do about aging computer hardware.
When all is said and done, this project has become a "win-win" because the scalability of VDI has allowed DISYS to reduce IT costs while giving our employees more flexibility and the ability to take advantage of the BYOD movement. In the long run, VDI has enabled everyone at DISYS to serve our customers better.
Hachwi is IT manager with Digital Intelligence Systems LLC (DISYS). DISYS is an ISO 9001-certified IT staffing and consulting company serving Fortune 500 and other global-scale enterprises worldwide.
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