CIO, Data Center, Opinion

Top 5 Tips for VDI Success

Last week, ActualTech Media hosted the VDI and End-User Computing EcoCast (which you can still watch On Demand here). The purpose of the event was to discuss the latest innovations in End User Computing and hear from some manufacturers of products that can make deploying VDI solutions more straightforward and more successful.

As we commonly do, we kicked off this event by discussing the topic at hand with an independent expert. It just so happens that in a past life, I spent quite a bit of time building and scaling VDI environments. I have deployed and maintained VDI environments from 20 seats to many thousands of seats, and from small offices to global environments with hundreds of offices.

In my time doing the work myself and consulting for others, I came to find out that there are a number of things you can understand at the outset to prepare yourself for VDI success. To help listeners from my interview on the EcoCast come away with some useful information they could retain and put into practice, I distilled some of my experiences into my Top 5 Tips for VDI Success. Without further ado, here they are.

1) Understand the Business Case for VDI

In my experience in IT, I have found VDI deployments to be one of the hardest projects for which to get and then maintain support. There are so many things that can go wrong and so many people and applications that touch the desktop infrastructure that the potential for failure is massive. You should assume that at some point along the way, things will go very poorly. I’ve yet to see a VDI rollout without some headaches.

That said, there’s a good business justification for why a VDI project is moving forward. Understanding what that reason is and focusing on that objective at the expense of less critical metrics is the key to your continued support (politically, financially, and with staff resources). If you can consistently deliver on the VDI outcomes that are most important to the business, you can ask forgiveness for other problems that crop up along the way. Some examples of business outcomes that you may focus on supporting:

  • To onboard new users more quickly and decrease the time it takes for them to begin providing value to the company
  • To enhance the security posture of the business by keeping all sensitive data within the four walls of the data center and only streaming screen refreshes to dumb devices that don’t hold any data
  • To complete a desktop refresh in record time and with minimal expense
  • To reduce the helpdesk headcount by at least two
  • Etc.

2) Relentlessly Pursue the Ideal End-User Experience

What do you think is the No. 1 cause of VDI projects losing support and traction within an organization? It is, without a doubt, a poor end-user experience on their new virtual desktop. Moving from a physical desktop or laptop to a virtual one can be a scary change for those folks who aren’t technically inclined. I’m here to tell you that if that big, scary change doesn’t go perfectly, you will encounter instant resistance.

End-users don’t like their virtual desktop for lots of reasons, but some of the most common problems to watch out for include:

  • Poor performance, exhibited in applications opening slowly, lag as the user moves their mouse or types, excessive login or bootup times
  • Unusual problems caused by not persisting user data. In non-persistent desktop pools, something that happens from time to time is that user data which should be persistent (such as configuration files) is thrown away at the end of the session. This can be absolutely maddening to a user, and they get sick of the constant extra effort needed just to do their work: They log in, tweak their settings, log out when they’re done. When they come back next time, their settings are gone.
  • Disconnections or dropouts caused by unstable network connectivity between their endpoint device and the data center where the desktop lives. The connectivity concern is especially problematic if you’re talking about global connectivity, e.g., endpoints in India connecting to virtual desktop brokers in the U.S.

3) Get Some Help From Seasoned VDI Experts

It doesn’t matter where you’re located; there’s someone out there with experience doing what you’re about to try, and they’re willing to come to you and help. Of course, that help isn’t free. But think of it in terms of the expense you’ll incur versus the pain, delays, and lack of project support you’ll face if you don’t get it right the first time. I can tell you from experience that you probably won’t get it right the first time; even those of us with lots of experience under our belts often don’t get it 100% right the first time.

Working with an integrator or consultant will give you a bunch of value on a VDI project. Not only will they already be familiar with the technical aspects of this project as it relates to a specific VDI technology, but they’ll also likely have an understanding of other tools and integrations that can reshape your business processes and extract the most value from the VDI project. Leveraging virtual desktops and other end-user computing tools is a massive paradigm shift, and you won’t reap anywhere near the full potential reward if you don’t also shift the way you interact with desktops.

A perfect example of this is those organizations that deploy a virtual desktop infrastructure, but provision all the desktops as dedicated, persistent desktops. There are special reasons why this model makes sense, but if you’re doing it that way to make it look and feel like a virtual version of the old PC-on-your-desk model, you’re doing it wrong. You’re missing out on some of the remarkable process improvement, agility, and enhanced end-user experience that can come with a well-tuned floating, non-persistent desktop model. An experienced integrator can help you understand the differences, and what new ways of thinking about end user computing could change your business for the better.

4) Use the Right Tools

Deploying, maintaining, and troubleshooting virtual desktops is a different animal than doing the same with a desktop in everyone’s cube. There are significantly more variables in play when troubleshooting, and the dependencies between the different parts of the infrastructure stack make understanding what’s happening much more complex than a single desktop.

For that reason, I’ve found that it’s essential to have a tool that can help you understand these relationships instead of trying to do it yourself. Take VMware’s vRealize Operations tool, for example. If you use vRealize Operations for Horizon and Blue Medora’s True Visibility Suite, you can get a view all the way through the stack and understand how the infrastructure pieces fit together and influence the experience an end user is having. I guarantee that on your first troubleshooting call, you will thank me. And if you try to take your first troubleshooting call without a tool like this, you will remember this sentence 😉

5) Take It Slow

One of the business motivations for adopting a VDI strategy may be to go faster, but the best thing you can do for yourself at the outset is to go slow. Because VDI is so highly visible and touches so many end users, a small failure can become death by a thousand cuts if you roll that small failure out to the whole organization. Soon, the helpdesk phones will be ringing off the hook.

Instead, the best approach is to find a small group of technically savvy but non-IT people who can pilot your desktop and application updates. The same way development teams have User Acceptance Tests where a trained user puts the application through its paces, you should have a small group of end users that can be your canary in the coal mine. They get the changes first, and they’ll alert you before you roll that bad update out to the entire organization.

Having this cohort of allies can help your project along, too, because they can give you insights and suggestions on how to improve the experience that you’d never think of on your own because you’re not a user of their applications. Making the VDI project a community effort will go a long way toward ensuring your ultimate success.

My Pain – Your Gain

And there you have it – my top five tips for ensuring your success on a VDI project. I wish I’d had these tips the first time I set out to change the way a business interacts with their computers. I assure you that it wasn’t as pretty as it would’ve been had these five tips been available to me. Best of luck!