What you need to know before moving to a virtual desktop

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What you need to know about virtualizing your desktops


When a software or operating system upgrade takes place, the IT department spends hours or even days overseeing the project, eventually visiting every user’s workspace. With desktop virtualization, the paradigm changes, automating the installation, upgrade, and patch processes. And that’s not the only changes that desktop virtualization can affect in the enterprise. Security and compliance become easier because users only get access to the applications and data they are cleared to view and work with, says Curt Hall, a senior analyst and consultant at Cutter Consortium. This is why the government in particular has been a big user of virtualization and virtual desktop implementations, he says. Still, there are some things that even the most seasoned IT professionals are overlooking in their rush to move to the technology. Here are four things that experts say everyone should know about moving to a virtual desktop.

You can’t move to a virtual desktop interface (VDI) without a plan. There are some organizations that need the security and simplicity of a world where everything resides remotely and a desktop image is sent to a device with all the data sitting on the server. That’s why it’s very common, says Dan Kusnetzky, distinguished analyst and founder of the Kusnetzky Group LLC, for organizations to select a virtualization technology without thinking it through. When this happens, users often experience performance that is less than desired or needed, he says. An organization that has users all over the world should probably avoid the virtual access approach, but unless you stop and think about your users and where, how, and when they are connecting, this might not be apparent until it’s too late, says Kusnetzky, who is also the author of "Virtualization: A Manager’s Guide" (O’Reilly Media, June 2011). “The worst part is when performance is really awful, people will start working around it,” he says. Access virtualization works best when people are sitting in a facility where there is relatively high speed networking, and they have a fixed set of functions they need to do.

Going to a virtual desktop will impact your storage situation. If you’re shifting from a physical laptop or workstation to a virtual one, the I/Os are going over the network and being resolved by a server, and that process has an impact on the storage system. You’ve got to do the calculations ahead of time to make sure your storage infrastructure as well as your network can handle the strain, says Greg Schulz, a senior advisory consultant at the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group. “There are a lot of myths out there relating to how VDI affects storage. You might think that you’re going to end up with one number of I/O operations (IOPS) per second, but in reality, you’re going to see many, many more,” he says. “If you have 1,000 workers [all logging in at once], that could be 30,000 IOPS.”

There are going to be some users who complain. VDI works better than most people think it will, says David Gehringer, a principal with Dimensional Research, but it’s not foolproof, and for some people, it’s not workable at all. “The main problem is that your data isn’t accessible to you if you’re not connected to the network,” he says. “While there’s comfort in that for IT, the person who is set to stream-only mode is not going to be able to work on the train or in an airport, and that’s going to cause problems for people who are used to working anywhere and anytime.”

You may not save money – at least up front – using VDI. The biggest drivers to adopt VDI is to relieve IT of the hassle of managing and supporting desktops and the costs associated with having to constantly provision and maintain large numbers of desktop machines,” says Curt Hall, senior analyst and consultant at Cutter Consortium. The problem, he says, is that most organizations won’t be able to roll out VDI on their existing infrastructure. “The reality is you might have to upgrade your hardware on the client and server side,” he says. “Especially if you’re running more complex applications such as statistical programs or streaming a lot of video or audio. Those things require more horsepower. The good news, he says, is that once you do upgrade, the hardware has a longer life than what was installed previously. Hall adds: “Plus, because it’s a thin client you’re going to get some savings on energy use, too.”


About this Report

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