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Desktop virtualisation dilemmas: Solving the VDI blame game

In this guest post, Kevin Cooke, product director at desktop virtualisation software provider Liquidware Labs, explains how CIOs and IT departments can avoid playing the blame game when working out why their VDI projects are not going to plan.

The move to virtual desktops, whether full on-premise virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or a managed desktop as a service (DaaS) in the cloud, can be wrought with hidden challenges. They may be technical or political, and lead to disruption, unmet user expectations and hit staff productivity.

These challenges or visibility gaps are amplified in larger environments, as there are more fingers in the pie, often combined with distributed technical responsibilities.
Ultimately, the question CIOs and IT directors should be asking is who owns accountability for the user experience?

What good looks like

If delivered properly, the desktop or workspace should offer a consistent and familiar experience—regardless of whether it is delivered via physical PCs, virtualised locally or delivered as a service in the cloud. But who gets the light shined on them when things go astray? Is it the desktop team? Perhaps the infrastructure folks who own the storage, servers and network are to blame? And in the case of DaaS, this demarcation becomes a lot more imprecise.

Don’t play the VDI blame game

The frustration we hear time and time again is who’s at fault. If VDI or DaaS is the last technology employed, it often gets the blame. And don’t discount people or organisational challenges; whereby user rebellion or office politics can be at play.

The lack of visibility and understanding of user experience can occur regardless of the delivery approach or platform. For cloud and managed services, there are issues that centre around where lines of accountability should be drawn. And, without a specific user experience SLA, it can be almost impossible to ensure you can measure, enforce and remediate these issues—even if you could draw appropriate lines between IT teams and find the true root cause.

Environmental challenges

While these challenges are not unique to DaaS, they do muddy the waters when attempting to determine accountability. How do you navigate these issues when your team points the finger at the service provider and the cloud folks claim it’s not their issue? I’ll present a number of common challenges we routinely face in the field. Some are related to infrastructure and delivery. Some are simply good practice and tasks that should be applied to any desktop.

In no particular order, I present a list of common visibility challenges that can play a significant role in user experience.

  • Desktops are like cupboards: If you don’t clean them out once and a while they become wildly inefficient, so be sure to reboot your physical, persistent and non-persistent pools, people.
  • We’ve always done it that way: Stop using old-school approaches to managing desktop patches on new-school architectures like DaaS, such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). I understand it’s the way you’ve always done it, but that does not make it correct.
  • User tiering and memory allocation: When moving to DaaS, or moving a physical PC to VDI, it is critical that you understand metrics such as memory and what is consumed by users and user groups. On the one hand you could under-provision, placing power users into a smaller memory footprint than required. These users will never be happy, as their VMs will constantly page to disk. On the other hand, over-provisioning means wasted resources. Resulting in an elusive ROI that will never be realised as you are over paying for VMs.
  • Controlling video, audio, keyboard and mouse signals correctly:  Poor user experience can sometimes be traced backed to the display protocol. Understanding the network, and how your display protocol behaves when constrained is key to tuning and optimising its performance. Would you be surprised to learn it was your wide area network provider that was to blame.
  • Master desktop image is everything: Pushing the same image to everyone – regardless of what they consume – is just plain wasteful. We worked at length with a customer who had not included the proper PCoIP components in their base image. The images installed and all seemed well on the DaaS platform, but the desktops were not accessible from their thin clients. Understanding what your users need, and building the appropriate image, is very important.

In addition to understanding what users need, CIOs need to get a handle on when they need it. In the spirit of cloud, concurrency and resource utilisation, it is important to understand when users require their workspaces.

Being able to identify workers who are not using their workspace is one side of this exercise, but right-sizing your pool and workspace count is another – whether you are paying by the month, by the CPU cycle, or by the named user. Understanding your actual consumption is key to maximising your ROI.

Could you be the problem?

I often hear seasoned IT organisations moan about VDI and DaaS. How it does not work, or it’s not delivering on all promises. I bite my tongue, and simply say VDI may not be to blame.

Many of the issues and challenges noted above are key contributors to a poorly performing DaaS or on-prem VDI platform. With vast experience in helping to diagnose and remediate these complex environments, I can honestly say is not often that the core VMware, Citrix or DaaS platform that is to blame.

More often than not, it is a tangential issue that is the cause. Similarly, before you point the finger at your cloud provider, be sure to understand the contributing and supporting components and how they can affect your overall user experience.

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