So You’re Thinking About VDI?
Implementing a Virtual Desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment is a daunting process, organisations frequently get wrapped up in the server side of the technology often neglecting to identify and deal with other critical key factors.
Factors such as profile management, malware protection, printing, boot up and logon I/O storms, to mention a few, can have a detrimental effect on the end user experience which can in turn result in the overall failure of an VDI implementation. To avoid failure it is import for any organisation considering the adoption of VDI to not only clearly identify their requirements but also understand the existing desktop infrastructure and the environment in which it sits.
Knowledge I.T recommend that customers thinking of adopting VDI undertake a seven stage implementation pilot to fully understand not only the technology but to avoid some of the common mistakes that ultimately lead to an unsuccessful deployment of VDI.
Phase 1 Understand Your Existing Environment
VDI is about changing the control of an externally delivered and managed resource (Physical Desktops) to a centrally controlled and managed service (Virtual Desktops), which can be delivered consistently and effectively against service levels on an as-needed basis, regardless of the external environment to which it’s delivered
As most organisations are probably aware the successful deployment of any new technology in a production environment begins with building the business case. This phase begins by providing stakeholders with the documentation necessary to support the adoption of VDI.
Tasks undertaken here will help both the solution vendor and organisation clearly identify and understand the current mechanisms and challenges around physical desktop management, including refresh durations and complexity, Windows 7 deployment, OS and application patching and maintenance procedures non-employee access, and finally, regulatory compliance, which is especially necessary in protecting sensitive information.
As part of this step, the organisational costs associated with physical desktop management will be identified so that organisation can justify the migration, if justifiable, to a virtual desktop infrastructure. Costs will include but not limited to the costs of the staging and deployment of new desktops. Break out fixed activities, the cost of downtime and lost productivity, as well as the cost of a hardware refresh.
Phase 2 Determining The Current Desktop User Environment
In determining the correct VDI user environment it is important that a good and well-rounded understanding of the current desktop environment be gained. In this phase we seek to identify the answers to such questions as:
- What percentages of users are local versus remote?
- What is the percentage of non-employee users (contractors, partners)?
- Classifications of users, are they knowledge users or task users?
- What are the end-user experience requirements?
In addition this phase considers and identifies important environmental details such as user profile persistence, single vs. multiple desktop needs, granular USB redirection, printing requirements, audio profile (one-way or two-way), and monitor support. Also conducted an application virtualisation assessment to analyse and capture important metrics such as executable size, device drivers installed per application, total number of application users and average load time.
Application virtualisation is critical to accelerating application deployment and simplifying application migration. By decoupling applications and settings from the OS, the Organisation can manage any endpoint as a generic device, making complex OS upgrades a non-event.
Phase 3 – Assess the Physical Desktop Environment
The challenge in any VDI project, especially when consolidating high numbers of users is good predictable performance of the virtual desktop. The end user will measure performance by application response time and the general responsiveness of their virtual desktop. In a properly designed and implemented VDI environment the virtual desktop should be as fast or faster than the user’s current endpoint device.
Where the previous two phases were concerned with identifying the current user environment and the organisations VDI needs and requirements this phase of the pilot, analyses a cross section of the organisations current desktop environmental metrics. These include metrics such as network (LAN and WAN), CPU, storage and memory statistics. It also assesses the user’s personality and profile locations and application portfolio, including for mobile users, off-line needs and stationary task workers.
There are many factors that can affect the performance and management of a VDI desktop pilot and resulting production infrastructure. These range from how antivirus scanning is performed, deployment of management agents, application portfolio in use and even how the base replicas used to create VDI desktop pools are created and maintained.
Although the effects of AV, management and the impact VDI can have on Active Directory can all be negated or reduced by the careful understanding of the environment and elegant VDI architectural design choices. It is important to correct size the supporting VDI pilot compute resources according to the actual desktop workload found within the organisation. This not only ensures that the performance of the VDI pilot will meet or exceed the organisation requirements but also provide invaluable sizing data that will allow the organisation to successfully move VDI from proof of concept into production safely.
Phase 4 – Identify Solution Options
In this phase of the VDI pilot all the viable and major architectural options should be identified and a high level design produced. Tasks undertaken here provide the freedom and flexibility to pull together the best mix of technologies for the specific set of requirements identified in phases one and two. Resulting solutions identified here could be based upon VMware, Citrix or Microsoft, or whatever best-of-breed technology blend will best meet the business and IT needs now and in the future.
This phase will allow you to consider all of the major architectural options and map the desktop delivery options to the previously captured end-user experience and expectations. It will also allow you to examine VDI options available, their remote protocol choices and their impact across network in terms of security and performance.
Included within this phase is the identification of options such as printing, application deployment include the delivery mechanism and packaging options. Essentially this phase will map out all solutions available, including the pros and cons of rolling each out into a larger VDI scope.
Phase 5 – Implementation of Pilot Infrastructure
Once the pilot infrastructure, technologies and the testing criteria have been decided upon the implementation phase of the pilot can be undertaken. This begins with a set of detailed implementation documentation being produced. Once the schedule of work within the phase has been agreed Knowledge I.T’s VMware engineers will use this documentation to guide their actions.
Phase 6 – User Acceptance Testing & Training
Acceptance testing is an important part of any project especially so when dealing with end users and something as sensitive as their desktop systems. The testing process is typically split into two sections. The first covering the back-end infrastructure, server, storage, network and access elements and the second covering the end users elements such as access, speed, printing etc.
Testing is undertaken alongside I.T staff and users to ensure that a complete and unbiased opinion of the pilot will be gained.
Phase 7 – Final Analysis and POC Close
At the end of this stage of the pilot any performance issues should have been identified and corrected. In addition you will have gained a good idea how to optimise the server, storage, and network infrastructure to deliver the best possible VDI performance. By the end of this phase companies will also gain an understanding of what level of optimised performance can be delivered by their current infrastructure for a realistic set of use cases as well as identifying any additional requirements needed to support their anticipated VDI user base. Furthermore if VDI is seen as a viable technology to introduce into the business the resulting pilot infrastructure and documentation produced would provide the foundation for a wide scale deployment of VDI.
Steve Tron is Technical Director at Knowledge I.T.