Chronicles of a virtual desktop migration

Execs are often last to receive VDI, but one took the reins in his virtual desktop migration and learned along the way.

Virtual desktop migrations can be like a skiing accident. There's not usually one big mistake that causes you to ski into a tree, but rather a series of small missteps leading up to the crash.

When moving to a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), you probably won't make one huge mistake, but a series of poor decisions that can ultimately lead to problems.

Todd Knapp, CEO of Envision Technology Advisors in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, kept track of the options he had available and the steps he took while he migrated to a personal virtual desktop. Other workers in his company already use VDI, but because executives are often the last ones to have VDI installed, he took matters into his own hands. Take a gander at Knapp's process and results as you're exploring your own VDI questions.

Step 1: Determine needs

The first thing Knapp did when he decided on a virtual desktop migration was figure out what he needed to virtualize. That meant access to email, Salesforce.com and applications for accounting. He travels for work and he edits videos for fun, so he needed it all: mobility, video and application performance, anywhere access to files (including offline), USB support and security. He and his engineering team decided that VMware architecture met those needs, but Knapp was more interested in which devices he would get to use. At the time, his devices included an Android phone to read emails, an Apple iPad to read news and check Facebook, and a Windows 7 laptop he used both at home and at work.

Step 2: Choose devices

Knapp's personal devices had been meeting his needs, and he didn't want to tote tons of tech. His iPad and Android smartphone both had VDI clients, so the decision about his primary computer was the first tough one. He settled on a Dell Wyse thin client with hardware PCoIP support for the office, and a 10ZiG thin client for home. The thin clients have good USB support, multi-monitor capabilities and PCoIP rendering, plus he doesn't have to remember to carry his laptop between home and work.

The mobility aspect of Knapp's device needs was still up in the air, however, and it was a Goldilocks and the Three Bears kind of affair.

When he started the quest to find just the right device for his on-the-go VDI access, he decided it absolutely needed to do only a handful of things: allow him access to his virtual desktop, have local email with cache and provide cached access to personal files. He also wanted something that could run his video-editing tools, access Netflix and support most of the common Microsoft Office file formats.

He looked at iOS devices, but the native Mail client wasn't quite right for him and his video-editing software wasn't supported. Android tablets also lacked some things he wanted, such as a real keyboard, storage space and processing power. After much trial and error, he found that a Windows 8 tablet -- the Dell XPS 12 convertible, to be exact -- was just right. It gave him Office applications he needed, access to his desktop and video-editing tools, plus good wireless and processing power, a solid-state hard drive, and tons of USB ports.

Step 3: Ensure uptime and protect data

More on virtual desktop migrations

Performing a virtual desktop migration between Type 1 hypervisors

Datastore considerations for migrating View desktops

Letting go of Windows XP: Why it's time to migrate

By managing his user persona, Knapp killed two birds with one stone. He could enable productivity and ensure uptime by separating his applications, settings and data from one another. He chose to do this with Liquidware Labs' ProfileUnity tool because it doesn't need a server to work, so it doesn't add any new potential points of failure. ProfileUnity also captures desktop and application settings when users log off of their virtual machines (VMs), plus Knapp created a profile folder and redirected all shell folders there so he could get work done independent of whichever VM he used.

Knapp's company uses a private cloud that maps his VDI data to the desktop and caches it. So with his Windows 8 tablet in tow, he could work with Office apps and cache his data so he could still work offline.

Lessons learned from a virtual desktop migration

Knapp says that VDI has changed his workflow in many ways. He didn't print anything for months after migrating, at first because he couldn't get his printer to work, but then because he found PDF tools to sign documents. He can also work from anywhere now, which is both a blessing and a curse.

He also says that he wouldn't go back to a physical system because VDI has improved his productivity and changed his life, but if he could do the deployment over, there are some small things he would change:

Start with a persistent desktop. Because he didn't have profile management figured out first, he ended up with a pool of extra, persistent VMs in case his failed. He has since worked out profiling and moved to a nonpersistent desktop.

Put VMs on a branch office's resource domain. Knapp and his IT department stood up his virtual desktop at the same time they opened a branch office, so they thought it made sense to put the VM environment on the resource domain. But that created a separation that has caused Knapp some problems (such as the printing issue) and it separates the branch and the VDI users from the rest of the company. Culturally, Knapp says it turned out to be a flawed plan, but overall, VDI has been an improvement.

This was first published in May 2014

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