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December 13, 2012

Guest Blog: Of course you can virtualise the entire desktop, but should you?

Toby Martin, director of product management at Flexera Software writes for CBR about taking a user-centric approach to the virtualised desktop to help ensure effectiveness, productivity and overall business objective success.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

The benefits of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) are well recognised, but up until now the technology has over-promised and under-delivered. Many IT departments, lured by better resource utilisation and cost savings, have had their fingers burnt as a consequence of adopting a ‘lock stock and barrel’ approach to VDI projects – finding that the project has in reality hindered users’ ability to efficiently execute their jobs, in turn resulting in outright rejection of the implementation.

The error has lied in taking an IT infrastructure migration-led approach to VDI. Evidence suggests that a user-led approach to VDI implementation is the more successful method.

Understanding the user
Often, IT departments focus on compatibility testing to gauge which applications can be migrated to the virtual environment. However, as part of this, user compatibility testing is overlooked. Rationally thinking, only those applications that will either perform better or will enhance user experience should be migrated to a virtual environment in order to truly deliver value from VDI. This in turn requires an understanding of which users use which applications the most, how they use them, from which devices, how often and for what purposes. Some applications (e.g. Microsoft Office) are more suited to VDI as, they can be encapsulated easily, are platform independent and multiple versions can run on the same box without compromising performance. Others that carry a heavier data load (e.g. SAP) lose performance and are more dependent on resources outside of the discreet device accessing the data. Knowledge of the application and the corresponding usage behaviour of its users are therefore vital to identifying the best candidates for VDI.

Bite size application compatibility testing
Further, IT departments typically undertake a one-off virtualisation compatibility test prior to a VDI project. To the contrary, compatibility evaluation is best conducted on an on-going basis. To illustrate, rather than conducting compatibility assessment for all applications used in a particular region or country (e.g. UK), undertaking analysis in blocks of up to a 1000 users who are categorised by job function or department (e.g. finance) is likely to ensure a higher success rate. It allows the IT department to identify and migrate users in small groups, making the project more manageable and minimally disruptive. Getting migration ‘first time right’ must be a key goal for IT departments embarking on VDI projects.

VDI – on-ramp to the cloud
Most enterprises today will admit that the ultimate end point for their applications is the cloud. To successfully achieve this, a measured, best practice approach that puts users’ needs at the heart of the virtualisation initiative is imperative. This requires:

  • Evaluating system parameters and behaviours associated with application usage to identify the users or applications that are most suitable for migration
  • Understanding the "before" state to compare and contrast to the "after" performance and user experience
  • Planning the migration – the who, how, and when of the move
  • Assessing what resources will be required – how many servers are required, what level of storage will be needed and the like
  • Converting identified applications to the required formats ready for migration
  • Deploying packaged applications

Experience shows that undertaking a detailed user assessment as part of the overall migration process is instrumental to the success of any VDI project. It facilitates a user-centric approach to VDI and ensures that the project truly enhances users’ productivity and efficiency, in turn facilitating the achievement of enterprises’ business objectives – the fundamental reason behind any IT project.

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