Hosting virtual desktops: Tips for a successful outcome

Be prepared for a long road; the technology requires a significant buildup of servers and other infrastructure, among other things

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Ease from pilot to deployment

After you understand the business imperatives, it's time to figure out the right technology. Do you need desktop virtualization at all, or is application virtualization enough? Should you follow the persistent VDI model, in which every user has a dedicated virtual machine, or follow a nonpersistent model, in which virtual desktops are spun up as needed from a common, standardized set of disk images? Do you need to add personalization to those nonpersistent images, and if so, will the basics offered by Citrix, Microsoft or VMware do, or do you need more sophisticated tools?

Jai Chanani
Virtualization "paves the way for a bring-your-own-computer model, which is what I want for contractors this year and employees next," says Jai Chanani, senior director of technology services and architecture at Rent-A-Center.

The answer may be "all of the above." Different user profiles dictate different technologies. Bring the products in, test them against your needs and expectations, and do a pilot, Accenture's Slattery suggests.

Summer says Whirlpool's VMware View pilot went on for 12 months before IT started rolling it out to 18,000 employees. He advises taking your time on both the pilot and deployment. "We had problems with the software, with applications and the network," he says. Since working through those issues, Whirlpool has rolled out the VMware View Client to a few hundred desktops and will continue as client hardware is refreshed. "In 12 to 18 months, we'll have about 10,000 people on virtual desktops," he says.

The pilot will also set the stage for selling users on the project. "You want users who like new technology, who will tolerate [problems] and generate positive buzz," says Kaplan.

While the pilot will give you champions of the technology among the user base, that doesn't mean you should skimp on training, Kaplan says. "In a lot of IT departments, the user walks in and sees a thin terminal on their desk and that's their introduction to VDI. You'd better have a strategy to sell it to users and get them excited about it," he says. He suggests talking about features such as the ability to "roll back" a desktop after a failure, and the ability to interrupt a desktop session at work, go home, log back in and pick up where you left off.

Rent-A-Center did video training. "That was a big hit for us," Chanani says. But he underestimated the sense of security that people feel knowing that their Word documents and other data reside on a physical device that's in their possession. "That's more powerful than I imagined," he acknowledges. "We still haven't gotten over that yet, even though the virtual experience looks and feels just like a Windows desktop."

Ultimately, the key to success lies not just in making the business case, but in creating a "business pull" for the technology rather than an IT push, says Summers. He stresses increased productivity through features such as faster boot times, greater reliability, faster recovery times, increased security and the ability to have almost instant access to the virtual desktop from any location or any device with an Internet connection. "That's our whole strategy," he adds.

Next: "Grocer goes with thin clients"

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rmitch, or e-mail him at rmitchell@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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