CHICAGO -- IT consultants and Windows administrators packed a BriForum 2010 session here this week to learn why desktop virtualization projects fail and to get tips to avoid potential disasters.
The reasons are so varied that it was impossible to cram them all into the 75-minute session. Cláudio Rodrigues, CEO at WTS Labs, Inc., an Ontario-based consulting firm, said that through his conversations with experts he rarely hears the same thing twice. But some said segregation between IT departments cause the most trouble. Others blame problems on poor project management and some say virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) simply doesn't work in certain environments.
However, there are a handful of common circumstances that guarantee trouble with a VDI or application virtualization project. Here are some of the most frequent mistakes.
Beware of VDI sales banter
The most common reason server-hosted, desktop virtualization projects fail is that an organization chose VDI when they shouldn't have.
CIOs and top executives get dazzled by vendor promises and they tell administrators to make it happen. However, vendors don't usually reveal their products' complexities and limitations, said Shawn Bass, an independent virtualization consultant based in Chicago.
"When the vendors pitch you, nod, smile and tell them you want to see a demo in your own environment, because 99% of the time, they are lying to you," Bass said.
It's also common for people look to VDI to solve all desktop management problems. But IT pros need to be more realistic about the product's limitations.
"It isn't magical, like the iPad," Rodrigues said. "You can't expect to take all of your crap, virtualize it and expect it to work better."
Cost measured in money and quality
Vendors also low-ball the costs and inflate the ROI savings, while in truth, the total cost of a project varies according to the environment. Plus, the technology is expensive to begin with, thanks to licensing costs per user for the product, Microsoft VDI licensing and back end infrastructure costs that creep up over time.
"You are moving your traditional desktop to more expensive real estate and more expensive storage, and separating the user from the desktop with a remoting protocol," said Steve Greenberg, founder of Thin Client Computing, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based consulting group. "The use cases for server hosted VDI are very limited It has to make sense for your organization."
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Storage requirements pose problems for VDI projects, especially since Windows has a large appetite for storage when running as a virtual OS. Using tiered storage helps lower costs and VMware View 4.5 will support tiered storage when it becomes available this year. In addition, companies such as Atlantis Computing offer storage optimization products for desktop virtualization.
Networking complexities also hold projects up, and end users who are used to a local PC experience complain about losing a personalized, high-definition experience.
"Users want to connect their iPhone and listen to music and have a [large] image live on their desktop, but it's not going to happen," Rodrigues said.
There are personalization products like Unidesk Corp.'s new layering technology that can be added to VMware View or XenDesktop. Vendors are also working on improving the end user experience with better remote protocols, such as VMware's PCoIP, Citrix' HDX and Microsoft's RemoteFX.
Application virtualization project mistakes
When it comes to virtualizing applications, IT pros set themselves up for failure by attempting to virtualize apps they know nothing about; you have to know the apps features are or how their apps work. People also pick the wrong apps to virtualize.
"It can't solve every problem and won't virtualize every app effectively," Rodrigues said. "Some people set out to virtualize everything, when it isn't necessary."
For instance, many BriForum attendees said they tried to virtualize Microsoft Office, but very few said they succeeded. Some said problems stem from all of the integration points to Outlook, while others noted Office 2010 licensing issues. Thin Client Computing's Greenberg said it works, but breaks cross-app hooks.
With enough care, virtualizing Office can be done but not all applications will work when virtualized, and others simply should not be virtualized, Rodrigues said.
For example, if you have a stable, legacy image that co-exists with other images and works fine, you shouldn't virtualize it.
"Why try to re-invent the wheel? If you have newer apps, it might make sense, but application virtualization is not for everything," he said.
Not knowing application dependencies is another potential trap. People also assume just because a virtualized app launches and appears to work, it is ready for production. That's not the case.
Once an application is virtualized, it's critical to have the person who regularly uses the app test it extensively to make sure it does everything it is supposed to, Rodrigues said.
Make it work
Like any project, it's critical to set expectations and to understand the possibilities and limitations of virtual desktop technology. Having a plan from the start that outlines what to virtualize is crucial. It's also important to get the right skills to implement the project or -- even better -- hire a consultant with a lot of experience.
Experts said start with a small pilot and build the environment incrementally. In addition, build and rebuild the environment again before putting it into production.