With the explosion of cloud and mobility changing the way people work completely, organisations have had to adopt more fluid digital workspaces to be able to support a dynamic workforce in the era of consumerisation. Digital transformation has quickly become the answer to the wave of innovation and new ideas behind the rapid development of technology. To keep up, organisations need to move from traditional desktop models to the digital workspaces that are tuned for mobility, a workforce using new device form factors and the agile delivery of new applications. Desktop virtualisation is the name of the game in this instance, and in response IT teams leverage virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to do this.
VDI is one of those handy little tricks that every genius in the IT department has in their box of tools. For your IT admins, VDI can reduce desktop administrative and management tasks and enable apps to be easily added, patched and upgraded. It also allows your admins to manage security and data protection from a central point of control, which in the long term will provide your organisation with a lower total cost of ownership and improved data protection. There are so many reasons why running desktop operating systems and applications on virtual machines, either hosted on-premises in your data centre or off-premises in the cloud to access via desktop clients or mobile devices, but there can be a catch. Here are the most common pitfalls that organisations come across when adopting VDI, and how you can avoid them.
As with the majority of projects that affect employees, incorporating VDI in your organisation is going to cause change. And for the most part, change is one thing that people really dislike. Clear communication is vital for project success, involving all parties early on will engage users and let them know what’s coming. Set up a schedule for periodic meetings that detail the upcoming changes and what benefits they will bring. It’s important to take a step back and consider exactly what you’re trying to achieve with virtual desktops, before you even start thinking about IT requirements. What are your users’ needs? By involving your users from early on in the process, it helps to manage expectations and understanding, which will result in their accepting of the end solution. Regardless of what project you were adopting, it would ultimately fail if your users have the perception that it won’t meet their needs or expectations.
Applying the right team to your VDI project can be easier said than done. A very common mistake of app and desktop virtualisation projects is to employ a team of virtualisation architects instead of desktop and application administrators. While architects might seem like the logical first step, the reality of VDI is that virtualising desktops and apps is very different from actually virtualising infrastructure. Admins who are skilled in virtualisation typically don’t build their own workloads, instead they focus their skills on operating servers in a virtualised environment. Build a team full of the people in your team who design and manage desktop and application environments. With desktops now hosted in the data centre, it’s important that the storage systems hosting the desktops and the networks used to access them are designed correctly. Involve the storage, server and network specialists in a coordinated and collaborative fashion.
The whole point of deploying VDI is to benefit the user, so it’s important to define your app and desktop virtualisation use cases properly. Use cases are built on types of workers and their job requirements, the applications and devices they use, their requirements for storage and multimedia performance and their network connectivity restraints. Consider the culture and needs of your organisations and your attitude towards the use of infrastructure when defining your workflow requirements. Thinking strategically, such as asking yourself if there are users that require high-definition video, will ensure that users receive the resources and system performance appropriate for the work that they do and the way they perform their tasks. Avoid oversimplifying your users needs, as different workers in the same office setting have varying performance requirements.
Conducting a pre-assessment for your new desktops and applications is crucial to gain an understanding of the workloads that will run in the virtualised client environment and their associated technical requirements. Without one, you’ll design the solution on nothing but assumptions, which will pose a risk when it goes live. By considering the applications that your users are using, how long it takes to launch them and how they perform on a physical desktop, the pre-assessment can be useful in determining how many users are actually using the applications and how it would impact the way the applications are being delivered. It also considers the utilisation of CPUs, memory, disk and network bandwidth in the physical systems, which is crucial in properly sizing the underlying infrastructure.
Before, in a traditional desktop environment, each user had full access to their own disk spindle- or dedicated hard drive, whichever the case may be- so poor bandwidth for WAN sites could be accepted and endured. When you move to VDI, it’s important to understand exactly how it will impact the performance of network bandwidth, Storage Area Network array processor utilisation and display protocols. These variables can affect application performance, which should have already been fully explored through engagement with users. Your users can help you generate realistic Proof-of-Concept or pilot workloads to validate their requirements for graphic bandwidth, storage, I/O and more. If your WAN links can’t provide the bandwidth for a VDI environment, or the latency is too high, you might want to consider local deployments.
Regardless of the size of your organisation, deploying VDI will be a complex procedure. You might have several thousands of employees on hundreds of different applications, including speciality products for particular job functions. You might have existing application deployment strategies for commonly used applications, but speciality apps can easily be overlooked, being easier to just install them for the small number of users who require them. Obviously, the need for a deployment strategy for all applications will directly impact the on the way the virtual desktop environment is designed. If applications are installed on user login a VDI environment can be properly designed to meet the constraint. Do tasks in parallel to help your project team meet your deployment deadlines. Have a clear understanding of how you will deploy, update and manage all applications that are used before considering how applications will be packaged and how wide-ranging updates will impact performance.
Finally, it’s crucial to avoid skipping or mismanaging the pilot project. Failure is a serious risk if your organisation skips the pilot phase, or if you run a pilot that doesn’t produce a clear outcome. It should have clearly defined objectives and a specified timeframe, engaging real users from various use cases to pilot the environment and generate meaningful load data. It’s important not to test the VDI environment on IT administrators first, as they aren’t representative of your entire organisation’s user base. It should engage the desktop support teams to provide end-user support to prevent the project team from attempting to provide 24/7 support to users.
With these tips, you can be sure to design a VDI environment that will provide users with most of the functionality and performance of desktop operating systems and applications along with higher availability and a lower risk of hardware failure. At Cetus, VDI is something that we’ve deployed many times and we like to think of ourselves as experts. If virtual desktop infrastructure is something that your organisation is looking to deploy, make sure to speak to our experts.
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Missy Beaudelot – Digital Marketing Executive
With a background in journalism and an interest in all things tech, Missy keeps our social media in check while monitoring our websites and developing our digital presence.