Many organizations are moving to virtual desktops for a variety of reasons. I have had the luxury to observe both successful and failed VDI projects. For the first couple of years when we started our company, we made a majority of our money by saving failing VDI projects. Over the years, I began to think: “What do all the successful VDI projects have in common?” Well, here’s the list of things I came up with:
1. Buy In From the Top
You can’t force a new technology on users without buy in from upper leadership. Ideally, you have already aligned organizational goals to capabilities and features of VDI. I recommend a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) to ensure all the requirements are met, but that’s for another post. Upper management and leadership needs to be onboard with the changes that VDI introduces to any organization. If upper leadership doesn’t believe in your mission and project goals, then what makes you think the users will? If you are wondering why you need to care about what your users think, then skip to point #2.
2. Communication, Communication, Communication
You have to be truly transparent with your users and leadership about what your plan is and how it will benefit your organization. There are countless benefits that virtual desktops provide your users, but if you can’t very easily articulate them to you will have a rocky project.
Provide pamphlets, computer based training, and user outreach for the end users. If you show users the benefits of something simple such as session persistence, which provides you the ability to move from device to device without needing to login/logout, you will immediately win over a vast majority of the users. One of the most successful outreach events we lead was done in a government cafeteria. I’ve always been a fan of lunch and learns. We had a line of twenty or more people and it was quickly begging to get longer and longer. Not only did this provide outreach to educate the end users but it got our government customer extra funding for his project.
What doesn’t VDI touch? No seriously, what does it not impact? VDI changes the user devices, network, data center footprint, energy usage (reduces), applications, licensing, management, troubleshooting, provisioning, and more. This is just another case of why you need to communicate with your users and all the other departments.
3. Pick the best and most simple technology that’s highly scalable
All successful VDI technologies share common attributes: scalable and simple. Don’t use 10 different technologies when five will do the job. Don’t use five technologies when three will do just fine. You really have to keep it simple. Why, you might ask? Well, if I have ten technologies, I have users and administrators trained in ten different things. I also have the potential for ten different things to fail at some point which increases my trouble tickets for the help desk. Not to mention the decision tree for troubleshooting for the help desk is complex and long which increases the time it takes to close a ticket. I’m not saying this is always true, but generally speaking it is. We have been leading our VDI deployments with hyper-converged solutions which take out the complexity of deploying VDI. How? We eliminate the installation time because the hyper-converged solutions we deploy are deployed in an automated way which cut install times down to hours and not days or weeks. Additionally, I don’t have to have a SAN admin, or someone to do zoning or masking. Not to mention it’s highly scalable and predictable which makes it easy to size for small, medium, and large enterprise deployments. Ask for customer references before you chose a technology! You can thank me later.
4. Choose the right integrator
This is where things get tricky. There are two different perspectives on this and I have a biased position which needs to be addressed. I am an integrator. Lets get that out of the way. Obviously I would prefer you to use our services. You may prefer to do the work yourself for financial reasons, or political reasons. Let me explain why you should consider using an integrator for at least some of the work:
There’s a trade off between user experience and technology that is a work of art. You need to always think about the user experience in order to have a successful implementation. It’s not something you typically think about when deploying a new server. It’s something you need to constantly think about when moving to VDI. How will this impact the users’ experience? You need to communicate changes to users regularly and always before it happens.
User experience is derived from look and feel, AND Performance.
- user experience is different from Windows 7 to Windows 10
- user experience changes between Office 2013 and Office 365
- user experience is different from 1 CPU at 1GHZ and 2 CPUs at 2GHZ
- user experience is different from 2GB RAM and 4GB RAM
- user experience is different from a software GPU vs a virtual GPU
- user experience is impacted by login times, printing times
I can install this myself, I have done virtualization before
On a recent VDI project I was able to determine within five minutes that a WAN link was insufficiently sized which would cause a problem. There are things that someone with experience can quickly pickup. It’s the tell tale indicators. Lets be clear, i’m certain you can install the hypervisor stack if you or your team have done it before. After all, i just said we chose a simple and automated solution by leveraging hyper-converged solution. As someone who has overseen more than a hundred virtual desktop solutions, I can say with confidence there are many differences between a server virtualization project and a desktop virtualization project. Users will see everything you do and if things run a little slow for even a short period throughout the day, you will get several help desk calls/tickets. You typically don’t have user profiles on servers. User profiles are a majority of the number of calls/ tickets. You don’t want a good solution for user persona management, you want the best!
So what’s the solution then?
Any good consultant can help build a plan and leverage your team’s abilities without a crazy bill. There are several good approaches to building out the environment. Leverage an integrator to do a full turn-key deployment or take a hybrid approach and leverage your team with a consultant to build the environment out. Either way, do not try to do VDI without someone who has done it before. You will make mistakes. It’s inevitable, and a failed VDI pilot is the quickest way to kill any hope to deploy VDI for your organization. Besides, a subject matter expert can not only help the project out, but you can benefit from on the job training your team will receive. Think of it like a safety net for your architecture and deployment plan.
The design difference
A server virtualization project is designed from the data center out to the edge. A properly designed desktop virtualization project is designed from the user to the data center. You start with use cases and performing a desktop virtualization assessment while working towards the data center. This will help you size out the environment and determine if network segments are sized appropriately, determine application requirements, etc. Not one successful VDI project in the past five years has ever been done for more than 500 users without performing an assessment.
5. Change Management
Yikes!!! Seriously, this is more important than you think. I have been to countless customer environments where I was told, “The system runs slow, fix it.” You can’t make a little change in VDI with out it having a huge impact. For example:
- Windows Patch – No one can log in any more (This happened during patch Tuesday)
- Application Patch – all users that use print to PDF don’t work any more (Not a VDI problem)
- Network Update – a simple update moving users on a segment to an MPLS network causes the MTU size to drop by just a little bit and now everyone on that network segment can’t connect (this happened to a customer!).
- Recomposed the desktop = BOOT STORM (lets be honest, that was a 5yr ago problem)
Don’t fret – VDI can ease a lot of these issues. If you mess up a desktop image, you can simply revert back to a previous version of the snapshot and push all the new users trying to log on to the previous image. Same for applications: you can push the previous version back to users. You’re kind of hosed on the network update if you don’t have any easy methods to undo that change.
You saw the part where VDI touches everything, so make sure VDI is a priority during other enterprise changes so that something that appears to be simple doesn’t have an unintended impact to your VDI deployment.
Get a test system
You should definitely get a test system to perform updates and test patches on. If you choose the right technology, you can get a scaled down version of what you deployed to do all your tests on. The goal is to reduce outages and trouble tickets without increasing the bill.
VDI can make your end users and organization more agile to meet new demands and keep up with the ever changing world that we live in. It’s a lot harder to implement these new capabilities and features without upper management buying in on the project. By ensuring communication is constant, it will ensure you have happy users and happy administrators. Taking the time to evaluate and choose the right technology will not only make the difference in success, but it will have an impact on training and administration. Choosing an integrator with hands-on experience brings subject matter experience that is vital to speeding up a deployment and making it a success. Change management isn’t sexy, but it means that you have a great technology that stays running long-term with little to no service interruptions.