How to manage VDI
For many higher ed institutions, VDI or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, was thought of as the silver bullet solution to their computing needs across campus.
While VDI does offer a partial solution and addresses a couple of needs, it’s not without a hefty cost, long-term hardware and licensing lock-in, and a substantial management effort and skillset requirement.
Management of VDI focuses on maintaining individual virtual desktops and the backend infrastructure used to host them. It’s also important to do all of these things to identify problems before they cause user performance issues.
- Apply software updates
- Push registry keys
- Manage operating system services
- Monitoring to identify and correct performance issues
- Fixing issues
- Troubleshooting user issues
- Monitoring capacity
Management of the complete VDI stack starts with the infrastructure and includes storage arrays, possibly dedicated networking gear, servers, operating systems, and hypervisor. And, that’s all of the layers before you build your first desktop image. Next comes the VDI management plane, connection brokers, desktop gold images or templates, and then pools of the actual VDI desktops themselves. All of which need on-going care and feeding by a qualified system administrator. There are vendor security patches and updates, performance optimization settings, OS patches, and more. What’s more, is the need to orchestrate updates between components which involves reviewing compatibility and the interoperability of version releases.
Once your VDI environment is ready for production, you’ll have to decide on a software distribution solution, (whether internal or third-party) and prepare to get software out to users. This adds another layer of management and monitoring, both for on-going updates, but also for in-VM performance from the users’ perspective. Depending on the number of software titles, you may need to create multiple gold images and desktop pools thereby doubling or tripling your effort.
Before VDI deployment takes place, there are several key factors that should be considered to determine whether it’s the right solution for a particular organization.
- Can be done by the IT department
- VDI management tools can be used
It may be possible to split the overarching management of a VDI environment across two or more IT teams. First, the backend infrastructure could fall to a single senior team to handle the monitoring and maintenance of the various layers. Next, the VDI desktop management could fall to the same group that already manages campus labs as the tasks are quite similar in nature. Finally, the software deployment might be handled by the campus lab team or given over to a dedicated software team depending on what distribution mechanism is being used.
The single biggest departure from a traditional physical computer lab approach to campus computing, is the addition of the VDI infrastructure and new requirement for highly knowledgeable and skilled system admins to oversee it.
Benefits of a well-managed VDI solution:
- Keeps performance issues to a minimum
- Helps to maintain student and staff experience
- Less work than having to maintain and update physical desktops
As noted earlier, a VDI solution can address some of the issues that a campus IT team may be facing such as off-campus access and predictable hardware performance. Because VDI presents a consistent and reliable desktop experience with every login, IT teams and management can rest assured that once properly configured, their users will enjoy a good IT service.
There are myths that VDI requires less management than physical lab computers, however, certain tasks such as OS patching can be accomplished more quickly and with a higher level of confidence which provides another benefit to the IT team.
Overall, VDI may have a place on campus, but all considerations should be looked at and a complete understanding of the various investments that will be needed should be added to the equation. Regardless of running a small, large, or campus-wide VDI deployment, a solid set of management tools and staff with the requisite skillsets will be required.
Sizing and storage
The sizing and storage required by virtualization solutions, as well as user needs should be taken into account. This includes an IT department with the capability to implement and manage a new system.
An incorrectly designed VDI deployment without adequate capacity will lead to performance issues and will have a negative impact on user experience. In traditional desktop systems, the memory, storage, and performance of a desktop are distributed across each individual machine. As long as each individual machine can provide the performance needed, user experience will not be impacted.
However, with desktop virtualization, all of these elements are centralized in the VDI environment. This system must be able to handle the performance requirements of each individual end-user, all of whom may be using the system at the same time. If the system is not adequate and a huge number of users access the system simultaneously, performance issues will occur.
VDI compliments BYOD policies. It allows users to access the virtual desktop using their own devices so understanding how the VDI solution will work alongside it will help with the implementation process.
Ensuring that user acceptable use policies and security policies are in place will not only help students to get the most from both solutions, it will also ensure that the university’s resources and data are protected and used properly.
Costs and licensing
Costs and licensing should be carefully considered. Although VDI provides a number of benefits, it also carries high costs. In addition, the IT department will require dedicated time to setting up and understanding the solution in order to offer support and implement updates when needed.
Staff and student requirements
One of the largest considerations to make before implementing a VDI solution is the needs of the end-users (staff and students). Every campus and organization is different, with a diverse range of needs and expectations. The solution must meet as many of these as possible to provide the most benefits.
Each end-user will have different requirements so understanding these is key to properly designing and implementing the solution. One of the key aspects to consider is the applications being used on the network. One application may have higher performance requirements than others so taking this into consideration will help to determine the sizing requirements of the VDI.
Persistent or non-persistent desktops
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure can provide either persistent or non-persistent desktop. A persistent desktop means that each end user’s desktop is customizable in a way that persists in each session and the customized data is saved.
On the other hand, non-persistent desktops give users a generic desktop, which does not retain customization. After each session, the desktop will revert back to its original state. This makes it less unique on a per-user basis, offering less functionality and adaptability.
Understanding user needs and requirements across the organization will be key to whether a persistent VDI or non-persistent VDI solution the best.
It’s vital to make these considerations to ensure that a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is implemented properly and well, with all of the functionality required from the start. A failure to do this can result in a poor end-user experience and additional costs incurred late when the system needs updating or expanding to ensure that all students are provided with the access they need, when they need it.
Taking the time to assess the organization for suitability will ensure the best student experience, keeping them engaged and providing them with the ability to stay up-to-date with their studies, no matter where they are, the device they’re using or the operating system they’re using.
One of the most important reasons to carefully consider desktop virtualization as a solution is the overall cost and continuity. If the original solution does not work or is not adequate, additional costs will be required in order to change it.
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