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VDI deployment guide

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Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a server-based software delivery technology that separates the operating system and desktop environment from the physical end-hardware it is to be accessed on.

Applications compatible with the virtualized operating system may be accessed and executed on the virtual machine with a user-experience consistent with that of a traditional machine and operating system. Two of the primary benefits of VDI technology in higher ed are remote access from any device and consistent performance.

While the BYOD trend continues its march forward, higher ed continues to struggle with how best to support an infinite number of hardware combinations and specs when trying to plan for delivery of academic software titles. VDI offers a solution since the IT team can prescribe the exact specs of every virtual desktop, can offer access both on and off-campus, and can enable access from any device running any Operating System.

To give users a positive experience, though, several considerations need to be reviewed and planned for. Read on for high-level best practices that will help guide a successful deployment of VDI on your campus.

Implementation best practices

  • Persistent or non-persistent VDI
  • Availability/Accessibility
  • User requirements
  • Sizing for network and storage requirements
  • Infrastructure
  • How will VDI align with BYOD
  • Security

VDI can be a great offering to students on a college campus to ensure proper access to academic apps and to guarantee a positive experience. Following are some of the decisions and considerations to keep in mind while planning a VDI deployment project.

Persistent or non-persistent VDI

Virtual desktops come in two flavors: persistent and non-persistent. Persistent desktops create a one-to-one relationship with each user and therefore require more of everything (storage, compute, licenses, etc.) to deploy. However, each user can be given full control to customize their desktop which can result in higher levels of productivity. Non-persistent or disposable desktops are randomly assigned, use a one-to-many assignment scheme, and often requires fewer resources. For example, with 100 non-persistent desktops, a campus might serve as many as 1000 unique students all accessing a desktop at variable times throughout the day. With a persistent desktop approach, the same campus would need 1000 desktops and 10x the number of back-end resources.

Availability/Accessibility

Deciding on whether to allow off-campus access is another consideration but in the times of the COVID-10 global pandemic is nothing short of a requirement. However, there are various points to review on security, licensing, scheduling, and capacity.

User requirements

While most users won’t directly know how much power they may need from their virtual desktop, the various academic departments choosing the software for use will ultimately dictate the requirements needed. A large number of applications will work just fine with baseline configurations but more specialized apps (such as engineering and modeling software) will likely require a great deal more. Trying to deploy desktops with 16 or 32 GB of RAM, GPU capabilities, etc, will put a strain on the back-end infrastructure if not properly designed from the start.

Sizing for network and storage requirements

When in the design phase of a VDI deployment, be sure to consider as many scenarios and configurations as possible. Building out VDI to be used on campus and then suddenly having to support off-campus users can put undue stress on the network components. Likewise, not providing enough storage can introduce pain to users if they cannot save large and complex work files required for their courses.

Infrastructure

The infrastructure supporting your virtual desktop environment holds the key to success. The best recommendation is to keep it as modular as possible. This will enable targeted upgrades where and when needed. In recent years, HCI or hyper-converged infrastructure has become more popular from major manufactures but for VDI this may not be the best choice, particularly if there is no room for expansion or upgrades to the individual components.

How will VDI align with BYOD

One of the big selling points of VDI is the ability to support any device and any OS, creating a kind of nirvana for supporting BYOD. However, there are some considerations to review. First, is a virtual desktop really needed if the user’s personal device is fully capable of running the software directly? Second, does the user need access to the full desktop or just a software application? Finally, does the VDI project budget include the cost of VDA (Virtual Desktop Access) licenses that are required by Microsoft?

Security

Off-campus access does involve additional network controls and security measures to be put in place to provide continued protection of the campus network and assets. As most security experts note, with flexibility comes complexity when securely deploying IT systems and VDI is no exception.


Who can help me deploy VDI?

Most IT professionals get excited when considering new technologies and solutions. Without a doubt, the prospect of a VDI project is likely to get your team’s juices flowing. However, deploying VDI is complex and often includes a host of new infrastructure and unique software management tools. The best advice is to engage with a vendor partner early on so that the design for your campus can be vetted by experts who work with VDI on a daily basis. A vendor partner can also help guide through different architecture scenarios, use cases, and potential pitfalls. All of the knowledge transfer gained will put the IT team in a far better position to successfully deploy and support VDI for your campus.

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