Why VDI is a data centre game-changer

Although you’ll get benefits from bringing regional offices in-house with virtual desktops, challenges come with VDI and IT management, according to this reseller.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is having a strange effect on our data centres. Although the technology has allowed for greater efficiency through consolidation, it has also brought more demands on a data centre's infrastructure. 

The advent of VDI, for example, brings the control of the desktop environment back into the data centre, which adds to the demands already made by traditional server environments and on the supporting infrastructures. VDI’s benefits include increased security; more control for the IT department; and the potential to reduce the year-over-year desktop hardware refresh costs. It’s compelling all right, but for large organisations with multiple sites and regional offices, virtual desktops present new challenges for the three data centre infrastructure mainstays: networks and WANs; data storage; and server management.

Regional offices and virtual desktops
To bring regional offices into your virtual desktop strategy requires a clear understanding of what your network is currently doing and what the usage profile of your remote users is going to be. No matter what those factors are, implementing VDI for regional offices will put the onus on your network capacity, and the likelihood of an upgrade or the need for WAN optimisation vastly increases.

Of course, it is not until the design phase of your virtual data centre project that you are likely to find out what these capacity requirements are going to be, and that often leads to having to rethink initial cost estimates and timelines for deployment. It can also mean a sea change in the strategy to deploy the new solution.

The storage infrastructure does not get away lightly, either. Performance requirements for elements of the virtual desktop solution may force management to rethink their tiered storage strategy. Some elements of the VDI build might require ultra-fast storage, and other elements may need to balance their performance versus capacity provisions. Using tiered storage and automated tiering technologies helps manage spikes in performance demand, and this, combined with deduplication and thin provisioning, can streamline your capacity requirements and reduce the overall performance demanded by the new solution. Many clever solutions out there work very hard to close down the challenges that virtual desktop solutions bring to this arena, leading to very healthy competition and great choices in the market.

The IT management VDI challenge 
Virtual desktops in the data centre bring another challenge for IT management. With so elements critical to running a VDI environment, it is difficult to see the natural fit for the team that manages it. In larger organisations, I can certainly see the need for a discrete team taking responsibility for it. The infrastructure is being hosted on servers in a virtualised environment with a desktop build and packaged applications virtualised and streamed on an as-needed basis. So perhaps it should be built from a mix of the existing server and desktop teams.

An organisation, no matter what size it is, that is looking at VDI will require a change in thinking for the data centre. You may need to consider new strategies across the infrastructure, combined with a real rethink in the support organisation and the way that support is provided.

Allaster Finke is the practice lead for GlassHouse Technologies UK and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK.

This was last published in April 2011

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