by Olivier Thierry
When the IT department
at the California State Teachers Retirement Systems (CalSTRS) sought a remote
desktop solution to support a new branch office in Glendale, California, they
quickly aligned on a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) due to the
feasibility, cost-effectiveness and ease of management.
“From the initial installation taking just a day to now having greater flexibility and ease in
daily support, VDI has proven to be a win-win solution for both our IT team and
our internal users,” said Ryan Goessling, infrastructure architect at CalSTRS.
“The high performance makes the user experience
seamless so our employees don’t miss their traditional desktops.”
CalSTRS is part of a
growing trend of organizations turning to VDI as a viable solution to
cost-effectively address the technology requirements of the mobile workforce in
remote or branch offices. Companies today are also moving to VDI to solve the
rising tension created by the bring your own device (BYOD) phenomena, as
today’s mobile workers want access to the company’s network and applications
and the organization still needs to retain the ability to manage and protect
Undoubtedly, companies benefit greatly from the growing mobility of the
workforce and the productivity enabled while on-the-go. But new challenges are
placed on IT organizations to provide a solution that ensures always on-demand
accessibility while protecting data. This new era of BYOD computing offers
benefits and challenges that are being assessed by companies worldwide with
many considering VDI as a solution.
New Research Reveals Growing VDI Demand, Especially in
has been an often-debated technology with the perception of unmet expectations
largely due to early exaggerated hype coupled with the realization of the
complexity involved in initial solutions in the market. Today, VDI has been radically simplified by vendors
who’ve integrated shared storage and virtual servers in simple, scalable
appliance models. These appliances provide an enterprise-class virtual
desktop infrastructure with high performance, high availability and no single
point of failure. Due to the ease and cost-effectiveness of today’s solutions,
VDI demand is growing.
A new survey by Dimensional Research and
commissioned by Pivot3 found that VDI interest was especially high among mid-market sized businesses
with about 80 percent of companies of 5,000 or fewer employees reporting they
are using or considering VDI. The top three benefits most often cited in the
survey for VDI adoption included easier maintenance and support, faster
deployment of desktops and reduced hardware costs. The survey also found a
shift in the industry’s skepticism of VDI.
Initial concerns targeting
implementation of the technology have shifted to issues with user acceptance,
performance expectations and the ability to show a positive ROI. Increased
network bandwidth and user acceptance were found to be the top VDI challenges,
whereas only two percent of participants named security as an issue. As the
technology has matured, IT recognizes that the concern is less about the actual
implementation and more about how it will be perceived by their internal
workforce who will want an experience equivalent to, or better than, the
As in the
CalSTRS example, end users were initially skeptical. The IT team addressed this
by placing a traditional desktop set-up and a virtual set-up side-by-side in a
cube environment and showed the experiences simultaneously. User acceptance
quickly changed, especially as the boot-up wait time was eliminated on the
virtual desktop and users saw that they were actually gaining a better overall
VDI Provides IT Significant Benefits Through Centralized
virtualization gives IT significant benefits through the ability to centrally
manage user desktops gaining efficiencies in costs and resources.
Improved Operations - Desktop virtualization
provides for simpler desktop provisioning, lower costs for deploying new applications, improved desktop-image management, and
improved data integrity through centralized backup services. In addition to a
reduction in both desktop operating costs and call support, there is also a
reduction in the number and duration of downtime events.
Improved standardization and security - Desktop
virtualization provides for consistent standards and security across all
desktops as well as facilitating remote office support and rollout of
applications. A lost device no longer means a catastrophic loss of information.
A reduction in required remote administration skills - Desktop
virtualization often diminishes reliance on centralized IT or third parties to
support the administration of physical desktops.
Support for the remote mobile worker - Tablets,
smartphones or other devices owned by employees handle desktop workloads.
Desktop virtualization facilitates both mobility and collaboration in the
Post-PC era mobile and dispersed workforce.
IT Considerations to Ensure VDI is Enterprise-ready
Designing a virtual
desktop infrastructure platform for steady state performance is obviously
easier than designing it for potential failures. It’s not a question of if a
failure will occur, but when. And when a failure happens, what will be the
impact on the company? What will be the impact be on desktop performance? How
will the system manage the failure and deliver continued desktop performance?
How will the system recover?
Many ‘simple’ VDI
solutions are just that - ‘simple’. They fail to adequately address many of the
enterprise-class requirements of continuous operations during degraded
infrastructure performance or even node failure. The virtual desktop
infrastructure needs to be designed and implemented to seamlessly handle faults
while providing continuous operations.
At the other end of the
scale, many ‘enterprise-class’ VDI solutions are often too complex and too
costly for remote and branch office operations to implement. These ‘solutions’
are custom built or custom configured to glue together separate hardware,
software and virtualization technologies into a services wrapped package. While
many enterprise-scale vendors have created ‘starter’ packages that deliver an
appealing initial price per desktop, consumers need to be wary of the costs
associated with any changes to capacity as well as the fact that they will need
to have some competent infrastructure skills on board (SAN, networking,
servers), to support and maintain the infrastructure.
Ability to Scale
The ability to scale a
VDI deployment is another critical element that requires careful consideration
and planning. The goal is to be able to scale desktops smoothly and dynamically,
with a linear price/performance per desktop and a linear scale out of
manageability. This requires the ability to dial in a ‘converged’ scale-out
model of all aspects of the virtual desktop infrastructure; virtualization
software, servers, network and shared storage.
This is tricky to do since the
infrastructure components are co-dependent. For example, adding more server
capacity to handle additional desktops might simply require adding volumes to
the shared storage system. But in the case of, say, a fiber channel SAN whose
capacity was designed to tightly match the needs of an initial desktop
configuration, these costs can escalate if the head end controller wasn’t
specified to handle any additional IOPS requirements, or if there aren’t enough
ports in the switch fabric, or if the blade enclosure is maxed out and an
additional blade is required, etc. Building out linear, elastic scalability
that is predictable and constant in terms of price and performance is difficult
Another important aspect
to consider is the scale-out from pilot-to-production. VDI “pilot stall” often
results from the discontinuity between pilot and production architecture. As
much as possible, organizations should look to piloting the infrastructure that
will be used in production.
Delivering desktops in a
centralized model to remote or branch offices requires careful consideration of
the network design and performance. Low bandwidth, high latency network
connections can be disastrous to the quality of the end user experience, no
matter how good the back-end infrastructure is. Failure to ensure that network
performance is always optimal will result in an unacceptable user experience.
Choices regarding how desktops are rendered at the endpoint can greatly impact
the end user experience.
Approaches: Centralized or “Centributed” implementation to ROBO VDI
The centralized model
assumes that the expertise, hardware, and software infrastructure resides
entirely within the confines of the data center, and that desktops are served
up over the WAN. Centralization has many advantages in terms of
standardization, skills, economies of scale, etc. It does have challenges in
terms WAN performance, size, scope and complexity of project.
Another approach, called
“centributed,” delivers all of the benefits of a centralized model, and is simple,
scalable and affordable enough to deploy locally. This approach employs a
pre-configured appliance model to deliver an enterprise-ready plug-and-play
building block approach to virtualizing desktops in the BYOD era.
In summary, as IT shows
a growing interest in VDI, it is important to evaluate solutions to ensure that
an organization’s expectations are met. IT needs an easy-to-deploy, always-on,
cost-effective solution while remote and mobile employees need the assurance
that a virtualized desktop delivers more rather than less.
Olivier Thierry is the
chief marketing officer at Pivot3.