Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) involves more than just delivering a virtualised desktop operating system to users, just like server based computing (SBC) involves more than configuring a server operating system to run multiple user sessions.

Both are about user experience. Both can suffer drastically if planned and executed poorly. VDI (as well as SBC) requires careful planning and design, as the user community will not refrain from voicing their concerns if things go wrong and performance is unsatisfactory. In this article, Mark Bradley, consultant at Glasshouse Technologies (UK), explains the considerations a VDI implementation demands and the benefits a well planned and executed implementation can bring to a business.

As controversial as it may sound, a company’s IT department’s job should be to try and make itself redundant. Of course, with the pace at which IT infrastructure, standards and products change, it will never realistically happen, but when an IT department installs a new system, it should design, test it and redesign it, over and over again, until the IT department is no longer needed.

It should also run a proof of concept (with a mixture of “power users” and “problem users”), update the design accordingly, implement the production solution, monitor it, document performance benchmarks, verify the design will provide the required performance from the benchmarks and update/improve the solution if need be. Then, once in full production, the IT department should continue to monitor it.

While this is an ‘ideal world’ approach and may not be practical for every system or solution an IT team implements, this is a must for VDI. If this ground work is done well, the support required from IT to keep a VDI running once implemented should be very light touch. There are exceptions to this light touch of course, for example adding a new application to the VDI offering or adding a new host to run more sessions to accommodate new users.

The potential need for additional hosts is something that the business should be aware of well before the need arises. Benchmarked performance statistics and continued monitoring will enable the IT department to keep the relevant management teams apprised of the capacity of the VDI solution. This will allow the business to plan expansion of the VDI solution without ever hitting the ceiling of the current capacity.

Adding a new application is likely to be project driven by people outside of IT but VDI, like any desktop infrastructure, is without doubt all about delivering applications used by the business to the user community. So understanding the application estate is an essential part of implementing a VDI solution.

By taking the time before implementation of VDI to catalogue user applications (in a Configuration Management Database, which could be the Service Desk tool or even a spreadsheet initially) will save you pain later on. Understanding the application estate will also make sure that the user experience is pleasurable by ensuring that the VDI infrastructure can run these applications without issues for all the users who need to use that particular application.

An understanding of application relationships can also be crucial with VDI. As VDI sessions are running on servers in the data centre, the sessions are closer to the servers running the backend components of applications, which can improve user experience enormously. Communication between applications on the desktop (physical or virtual) is not typically designed to perform well over low bandwidth connections, so VDI sessions can actually improve application performance, especially for remote sites/locations.

With VDI, client software is housed in the data centre, which means that communications between it and the backend servers takes place over the data centre core network. Not only can this improve performance, but also security, as it allows tighter controls over the data being sent on the network. VDI also improves data protection, as technologies like folder redirection will be implemented so that the VDI session itself does not have a requirement for large amounts of storage for user data.

This will move the user data on to a file server/NAS device in most cases, which also allows backups of user data to be simpler than backing up individual laptops/desktops. Knowing that corporate and user data is physically stored in the data centre can be very reassuring compared with the potential to have data stored in the data centre, on desktops in the office and on laptops that could be anywhere.

VDI can also bring great benefits during a desktop refresh, whether it be hardware or software. With VDI, any hardware refresh will take place at a server level rather than the desktop/laptop level, which means that a business could quite easily upgrade all its VDI users to the latest processor architecture in the space of a weekend, without physically replacing every user’s laptop or desktop for a new model.

VDI can also be invaluable when it comes to upgrading an organisation’s operating system to Windows 7. By combining the upgrade to Windows 7 with the move to VDI, companies can gain a much more dynamic desktop infrastructure, reduce provisioning times for new users, provide users with the latest desktop operating system and improve the overall user experience. The benefits of VDI are clear to see, but organisations will only reap all of these if its implementation is properly planned and executed in line with their unique business requirements and objectives.