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End User virtualisation - now a reality?

In our previous blog on Shadow IT we talked about the challenge of trying to manage an infrastructure where employees are determining their own individual workplace experience.

Employees work better when they have an environment specifically tailored to their needs but how do you provide that if your IT personnel are already at full capacity, or if your organisation is subject to legislation that means desktops must be tightly controlled?

Our analysts said…..

A few years ago the answer would have been Desktop Virtualisation (VDI).  Heralded by research firms and analysts as the way for organisations to save OpEx costs of around 75%, exponentially increase enterprise agility and free businesses from costly PC refresh cycles, it seemed like a silver bullet except…

VDI never really took off

Despite firms such as Gartner making predictions that the VDI market would by now have 49m users, it never really materialised.   Failed VDI implementations came about largely through incorrect expectations, problems in planning, or errors in execution.  Deployments didn’t get off the ground, or produced results drastically different from those desired.  And when desktop virtualisation projects fail, the whole business can fail.

So what’s new?

Despite VDI only capturing between 1%-3% of the worldwide professional workspace market to date, technology providers continued to finesse their offerings in pursuit of those original goals.  These resulting improvements have driven a huge surge of interest and analyst reports are once again focusing on how virtualisation can transform the workplace.  This change is thanks in principal to two major technological advancements:

Storage: storage vendors have introduced technologies allowing each user to have a unique disk image for around £50/user.  This allows VDI desktops to become a pooled resource with a price point much more in keeping with the cost savings enterprises expect vs traditional fat client.

Graphics: advances in technology delivered by Citrix and VMware mean that VDI desktops can now do pretty much anything a laptop or PC can do – with desktop virtual machines able to access graphics processor units (GPU) within VDI servers, the user experience is massively improved.  

Is VDI for you?

Desktop virtualization offers many benefits, but one of the main challenges is its biggest selling point – the ability to offer a unique end-user experience.  Unlike server virtualisation, which can be standardised, every desktop virtualisation project needs to be unique and specifically configured for the precise contours of the IT estate, business geography and staff work patterns.   With the huge changes switching to VDI involves, it is possible that desktop virtualisation is partly, or even wholly, unsuitable for your enterprise.  Here’s how we would propose you start your approach:

Conduct a company-wide survey of user needs: 
The benefits of using virtual approaches are directly proportional to the specificity they are built with, so time should be allocated to build a set of environments based on accurate assessments. Question who will benefit from desktop virtualisation, what their virtual desktops will look like, what end device types should be included and how to distinguish between those who need VDI and those who should remain fat-client. Further complicating this can be initiatives that may be championed by the HR department such as Bring / Choose Your Own Device. 

Bring together a desktop management team:  
Provisioning individual desktops per-user, or per-department is a full-time job, so you’re going to need a dedicated team to ensure the dynamic capabilities of desktop virtualisation solutions are fully realised. A business that collaborates with other organisations or regularly hires short term staff can gain significant benefits from the flexibility a virtual approach brings. 

If you don’t have the expertise or time available to manage VDI in-house, there’s also the option of pre-architected solutions such as the IBM SmartCloud Desktop Infrastructure (SDI) which delivers the benefits of extending data centre security and manageability right down to end-user resources.  Crucially, it can do this across a whole range of devices including tablets and smartphones.

What could possibly go wrong?

We believe that a new era of end-user virtualisation is upon us but let’s not get swept up in the hype.  To avoid the mistakes of the past that lead to failed implementations, here’s what you need to look out for:

Forgetting to invest in the data centre: 
Desktop virtualisation places demands on your data centre, making it work much harder when virtual machines share common pools of resources. Periods of high activity, such as the boot-storm at the beginning of a working day can slow service to a crawl if the data centre isn't equipped to cope, delivering a worse end user experience.

Not checking your apps: 
Applications must be checked for compatibility and performance in a virtualised environment. Implementation is not always simple and can involve changes in user profile management, pool management and layering. To avoid a failed environment – check your apps and build in test and QA stages before rolling out.

Overlooking security: 
VDI desktops are theoretically more secure than traditional desktops, but can still be susceptible to zero-day attacks, viruses and malware.  Networks can be secure by design but users are prone to human error – don’t leave your security to chance.

Time for a second look?

With the right planning and execution, it’s hard to rival desktop virtualization flexibility.  The ability to instantaneously create and dismantle specifically tailored user instances improves enterprise agility and time to market.  It’s also a great enabler for flexible and mobile working; desktop virtualisation supports bring-your-own-device initiatives and enables users to work freely on smartphones, tablets and laptops.  With the future of IT being Agile, then end user virtualisation is definitely worth a second look with an expert partner who can guide you through the jungle to your best strategy.



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