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How to make your VDI project plan a winner

VDI can simplify life for IT admins, but they must plan the project out from the pilot phase through implementation. Keeping unexpected cost and complexity in mind is critical.

Putting together a game plan is crucial to the success of a football team week in and week out. The players and coaches must watch film, practice and figure out the best way to attack their opponent.

A VDI project plan is similar. IT administrators must come up with a plan depending on what their organization needs, set realistic expectations and know how to make changes if something doesn't work out right.

The VDI project plan starts with a pilot

No game plan is going anywhere without practice, whether it's football or VDI. So naturally the first step in a successful VDI deployment is the pilot program. It gives admins a chance to test all their hardware and software to make sure it works before they put VDI into the hands of every user. If they notice any issues they can make changes before they implement VDI across the company.

Do not under any circumstances attempt a mass migration to VDI.

Admins must determine exactly what they want to accomplish with their VDI deployment, which means setting quantifiable standards to decide if everything is working properly. Admins can pick what metrics determine a successful test. It could be as simple as nothing crashing or as in-depth as specific performance benchmarks for factors such as response time and login durations. If the pilot program hits its numbers then they're on the right track.

Once IT establishes the pilot program's foundation it's time to put it to the test, which they should do in waves. Let some members of the IT staff work with the pilot program and see how it performs. If everything holds up then they can add a few power users to the mix. As long as everything keeps working admins can continue to expand the testing process to as many users as they want.

Make the transition to production

Do not under any circumstances attempt a mass migration to VDI. No matter how well the pilot program went, testing VDI and putting it into practice are two completely different ball games. If the pilot program worked for 25 virtual desktops, that doesn't mean scaling up to 250 is going to work. Hardware failures, storage shortages and more are almost inevitable, and it's much less of a problem if a small group can't work rather than the entire company.

Make the transition in batches. Either migrate by user type or on a department-by-department basis. A gradual approach not only makes the transition easier, because similar users work with similar apps and resources, but it also makes tracking everything simpler. Instead of fielding questions and managing user experience across the whole company, admins only have to deal with small groups. This way they can identify any problems, address them and avoid them when they transition the next group. It's also much easier to train a small group than the entire company.

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VDI is full of surprises

Even the most prepared teams can get taken off guard by some unexpected blitzes. With VDI the blitzes come in the form of unanticipated complexity and costs.

VDI is supposed to simplify management because admins only have to look after a few desktop images, but there is more to the story. With VDI, admins still have to keep an eye on servers, hypervisors, storage, networking and more. On top of that, admins must implement fault tolerant systems to prevent a single point of failure, deal with legacy apps that might not work with VDI and work with app layering in some cases. From a security standpoint, VDI complicates matters as well because users can access corporate resources from a variety of devices and locations.

Costs can also blindside a VDI project. Even if admins accurately predict the costs for setting up the infrastructure, they have to take into account the cost of any additional IT staff they require to make everything run and consider the software licensing costs.

Ensure a VDI victory

To come out on top, a VDI project plan must emphasize performance to ensure that user experience matches or even exceeds what users expect from their physical desktops. User experience monitoring tools can help admins track logon times, application loading times, input responsiveness and graphics quality. Some tools can even alert admins when certain standards are not being met.

Because of the centralized nature of VDI, IT admins must plan for outages. Even a small hiccup can take down entire departments or more. To prevent massive problems, VDI shops must include redundancies for back-end systems. Even with redundancies, outages can happen, so IT needs a plan for quickly fixing them when they occur.

Finally, IT must look at the world through a VDI lens. That means understanding how certain tasks that don't bother physical desktop performance much, including hard disk defragmentation and superfluous antimalware scans, waste resources on virtual desktops.

Next Steps

Dive into virtual desktop management tools

How to fix common VDI problems

What derails desktop-as-a-service projects?

This was last published in February 2017

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