The Necessity of a Virtual Desktop Starts with the Pain

By Ali Din (Profile)
Wednesday, November 28th 2012

It’s only happened to your employees a few times:

You’re traveling on the road and your laptop gets lost – your company’s intellectual property and customer data is gone.

Or, maybe a virus infects a key employee – and IT starts remediating for hours – while a proposal is due.

Or, right in the middle of editing a twenty two sheet excel budget, the computer crashes – the last two hours of changes are lost and the meeting with your finance lender is tomorrow morning.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

The benefits of desktop virtualization – a result of implementing a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) – are abundantly clear: from the pain points, to the productivity enhancements, to the bottom line cost savings.

If you are a small or mid-sized company (a company with less than 1,000 employees), the challenge with VDI is starting the journey to the cloud. For many, simply evaluating the technology offerings available can be daunting a process.

VDI encompasses servers, storage, and networking – which is unique compared to previous workloads your IT organization may have dealt with. Previously, if you needed to add an ERP package, you simply had a server (or a few) up and running, connected it to the network and you were done. If you needed a new wireless network, you simply had a network specialist to add some access points and you were done.

VDI is a different animal because it is an end-user facing service (the desktop) that now has to be managed in a data center. This presents a challenge even for large organizations in finding someone who is technically adept at understanding and integrating all these different components – the servers, the storage, and networking.

The diagram below shows the decision points that have to be made, as well as the considerations in getting into the business of managing VDI:

(Image source provided by dinCloud)

Servers present a host of questions and there are many form factors for them. One of the metrics IT organizations look at is the VM-density – this is how many virtual machines can be hosted on a particular physical server. Just as we were warned in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” – “you must choose wisely.” Do you want a massive server that can host several virtual desktops? Or do you want several smaller servers? What happens if a server fails, how many virtual desktops will it take down with it? And what about fail-over? These are some of the questions you need to address in selecting what server architecture is going to support your VDI.

When it comes to storage, you have many considerations as well. First is the technology behind the storage and being familiar enough with all the terms to determine which is best for your environment – for example, SAN (Fiber Channel or iSCSI) or NAS (NFS). While there are a few major players out there in storage, you want to focus on high performance because you are running a desktop. Given the fact that it is already streaming from the data center to the end point you want the fastest possible performance. I will admit my personal bias here is to NetApp, but others include HP 3PAR and EMC.

But this is just part of the data center equation. If you are co-located in a data center, you need to evaluate if that data center’s connectivity is going to be enough for your mobile workforce’s needs.