A CEO's personal voyage through virtual desktop migration

Learn about one man's journey through the perils of VDI as he converts his physical workspace to a virtual desktop environment.

When I was 5 years old, I hit a tree -- hard -- while skiing. Today, as I begin my virtual desktop migration journey, the lessons I learned back then stick with me.

I remember trying to correct the situation as my body veered off the trail that day, but it was no use. The mistakes that led me to that moment were small and cumulative since I had first started down the hill. Each misstep compounded the one before, until there was nothing more to be done. Of course, I was 5, so I flailed my arms like a madman and screamed like I was on fire.

My first concern is: What devices do I get to use?

I've made the decision to convert to a virtual desktop, and it reminds me of that cold winter morning. VDI deployments are like that accident. It's rarely one big mistake that results in a problem; it's the culmination of small assumptions and poor choices that will get you in trouble. Hitting the tree hurt, and as the CEO of a growing IT company, I can't afford to hit the tree.

As I plan and execute my own personal migration to a virtual desktop over several weeks, I will keep a journal that will be recorded here in four parts. My hope is that by communicating my successes and failures, some of you will be able to go from walking to skiing without the unpleasant side trip.

I determine my needs

My company builds VMware infrastructure, which gives me quite a bit of flexibility in my migration. So, first things first: What do I need to virtualize? My personal technology is pretty typical of an average executive today. I have an Android phone, an iPad (full disclosure: I really only use it for Netflix, CNN and Facebook), and a Windows 7 laptop. My office laptop has a docking station that's connected to dual monitors, and I have duplicated that setup at home. I don't need two computers; I simply undock at work, and dock at home.

My use case seems simple enough on its face. The first priority is email, the second is Salesforce.com, the third is my accounting package and the fourth is my quoting application. I travel frequently, so I need to work from the road, and I also do a bit of video editing for fun. At first blush, you might think, "How hard is it to virtualize that?" My fear is that it may be more difficult than I think.

Most companies that virtualize desktops handle executives last. They go for low-hanging fruit such as call centers and back-office employees first, because those groups are the least likely to jam an unsupported thumb drive into a thin client's USB port. They also won't get super upset if video performance on CNN.com is a little sub-par, and they aren't going to have the mobility issues that executives have.

Unfortunately, I need the whole spread: mobility, good video performance, access to files from anywhere (even without an Internet connection), USB support for whatever my client might hand me, great performance for my CPU- and memory-intensive applications. To top it all off, I need it all to be very secure. To accomplish this, I met with my engineering team, and we settled on an architecture that meets these obligations. But before we get to that, like any good end user, my first concern is: What devices do I get to use? 

I choose my devices

Selecting my devices hasn't been easy. My personal tech has to meet a number of obligations, and, obviously, I don't want to cart around a ton of devices. In fact, I want no more than three: my cell phone, my primary compute device and my iPad.

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My iPad has a VDI client on it, so that's not an issue. Likewise, my Android phone has a client and, more important, it's the key device upon which I read my email. So, my primary compute device is where the big decision has taken place. 

The first thing I realized is that while I could still use a laptop and dock at work and home, I'd rather not do that. The value of VDI is that I could avoid the hassle of having my endpoint on a domain and also avoid maintaining operating systems. So, I selected a Dell Wyse thin client with hardware PCoIP capability for the office. At home (only because I am curious), I chose a 10zig thin client, which also offers hardware PCoIP support.

The great thing about these thin clients is that both offer excellent USB support, multi-monitor capability, and can deliver great video as a function of hardware PCoIP rendering. In both cases, I just sit down, log on, and my virtual desktop takes over. There's no need to remember to bring my laptop and no issues with docked versus undocked profiles. Best of all, if I lock my desktop when I leave, it loads at home without losing its state.

With home and the office taken care of, I needed to deal with that on-the-road issue. To do that, I headed to my local electronics store … which I am now banned from. It turns out they don't appreciate it when you purchase and return six devices before settling on one. In my next journal entry, I review each device.

This was first published in November 2013

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