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Desktop virtualisation helps data centres prepare for consumerisation

Archana Venkatraman

Most UK data centres aren’t prepared for the IT consumerisation trend, but experts say a move towards virtual desktop infrastructure is a step in the right direction.

UK businesses have only just reached the stage of acknowledging consumerisation of IT, so they have not taken the steps to build the proper data centre infrastructure, experts say.

There’s a lot to do to prepare, but “many businesses in the UK and in Europe have no idea of how to deal with consumerisation of IT,” said Tony Lock, programme director at Freeform Dynamics Ltd., a research and analysis firm.

One problem is that existing data centre network infrastructures aren’t built for the strain of mobile devices.   

“There is a big network black-hole in organisations’ efforts to face consumerisation of IT,” said Roy Illsley, an analyst at Ovum. “Businesses [have] yet to plan to address connectivity issues and to manage device traffic and varied connectivity speed.”

Meanwhile, businesses that have adopted desktop virtualisation are prepared for the consumerisation trend, but only a small proportion of companies have gone in that direction, said Clive Longbottom, managing director of research company Quocirca.

Other experts agree that virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is the best path towards support for multiple Internet-enabled devices.  

Prepping data centres for IT consumerisation
First, IT professionals must design and implement a server topology that supports VDI or hybrid VDI, experts said.

In hybrid VDI, parts of the desktop are virtualised, and other parts are streamed down to the access devices as required to make the most of any available resources -- but only if effectively sandboxed from the user’s own consumer environment, explained Longbottom.

In either case, VDI server farms need the right storage infrastructure around them, he said.

This can be achieved using thin provisioning so that each desktop isn’t given, say 100GB, right from the start. Instead, desktops start small and can be scaled up as required.

Implementing server topology and using thin provisioning are the biggest hardware side of things, said Longbottom.

One caveat is that suddenly introducing a high-density server/storage farm to support a few thousand users may also have an impact on power availability/distribution and cooling requirements in the data centre, Longbottom said.

Developing a BYOD strategy
Once the proper infrastructure is in place, companies that let employees bring and use their personal devices for corporate purposes have to create a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy -- or data access policy -- which is compliant with industry  regulations; “a policy that will make the auditors happy,” Ovum’s Illsley said.

Any new Internet-enabled mobile device attempting to access the network must also be monitored, and its capabilities and context must be assessed in real time, experts advised.

“Those devices that do not meet hardware requirements or the capability to support specific software needs -- VPN, Java, whatever -- need to be locked out,” Longbottom said.

Devices that meet the basic hardware requirements but are lacking some of the software needs (but where this can be rectified by downloading the needed software directly to the device) need to be air-locked outside of the network until the software is loaded on to the device, he added.

IT professionals must also determine how to maintain all the desktop images -- patching, upgrading and so on -- and have the proper tools in place.

Meanwhile, data also has to be aware of the context, and systems need to be in place to act accordingly, experts pointed.  

“For example, if the user is coming in from a device that is connected to a public Wi-Fi spot in the middle of, say Moscow, you may not want much information to be sent over the link at all – even if a VPN is in use,” said Longbottom. “If they are coming in over a more trusted Wi-FI environment, then you may want to make life a little easier.”

In a well-trusted environment, such as a validated home connection, device users can work without too much issue, experts added. This means IT pros will have to develop data taxonomies and store and transmit data in an encrypted manner.

Digital rights management should also be applied to prevent onward actions being carried out once it is on someone’s device.

IT departments also have educate employees on BYOD policies. “IT pros must get the users to allow some components of their personal devices to be managed by the IT department,” said Lock.


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