The Best of Interop 2012
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
With the majority of enterprises expected to move off Windows XP over the next couple of years and onto Windows 7 or Windows 8, both of which offer built-in support for desktop virtualization, many companies will soon look to reap the benefits that a VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) can offer, such as greater flexibility, mobility, and customization--and the ability to access Windows on non-traditional devices like tablets.
But, as with server virtualization a decade ago, desktop virtualization is in its infancy and many of the kinks have yet to be worked out. As a result, there are a number of potential pitfalls. Many can be avoided by following some basic steps in planning and preparation. At the Interop Conference and Expo Wednesday in Las Vegas, speakers Tyler Rohrer, co-founder of LiquidWare Labs, and Jason Langone, federal account manager at Nutanix, offered a few ways that can help organizations avoid some of the more common VDI missteps.
1. Know what you have. Enterprises should take a full inventory of their desktop environment before embarking on a desktop virtualization plan. That will in turn provide them with the information needed to procure the right technology, in the right amounts. Assets to measure include CPUs, RAM, apps, and storage in use in the existing environment. "The biggest impediment to success is that people don't collect the data before they begin," said Langone.
2. Prepare users for the migration. When switching over to VDI, users may encounter an unfamiliar desktop. Langone recounted how his mother, who works for the federal government, is the type of user that assumes an application is gone if the shortcut disappears. When the agency she works at switched to VDI she was presented with a blue screen she couldn't navigate. "If you do zero to empower the user, the project fails," said Langone.
[ VMware's Steve Herrod shares his perspective on the future of data center management and organization. See VMware CTO: Software-Defined Data Centers Are Future. ]
3. Don't assume VDI is like server virtualization. Organizations that have successfully virtualized their server environments may assume that VDI will be that much easier. The panelists said that's a mistake. They noted that, while server virtualization may involve hundreds of servers, VDI can involve thousands of desktops. "Your network and storage may have to support much higher loads during peak periods," said Rohrer.
4. Realize different user groups have different needs. VDI is a chance for enterprises to efficiently move away from the "one size fits all" approach to desktop provisioning, and it offers a chance to provide desktops that are more finely tailored to the needs of individual workers. Among other things, this can give admins a chance to renegotiate software licenses based on the fact that apps are not being rolled out universally to the entire workforce.
5. Persistence pays, except in VDI. When possible, organizations should opt for non-persistent VDI implementations, as opposed to persistent. The former randomly assigns a user to a VDI instance upon login, while the latter consistently assigns users to the same instance, such as "virtual desktop 17." The advantage of non-persistence is that it's more flexible. For instance, it's easier to move a user to a new instance in the event the virtual machine they are on fails. "With persistence, the user gets a blue screen and they are [out of luck]," said Langone.
6. Assess, and reassess. After a pilot project has been implemented, user feedback and data needs to be closely monitored. Key factors to watch are application response times compared to physical desktops, CPU usage, and bandwidth consumption. "You have to ask yourself, 'Did we accomplish what we set out to accomplish,'" said Rohrer. It should all add up to lower desktop costs, a more flexible work environment, and happier users, he said.
See why NEC's network controller and eight other products stood out at Interop 2012 in the new, all-digital Best of Interop issue of InformationWeek. (Free registration required.)