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A good VDI pilot gets deployments off the ground

Countless VDI projects circle the drain because administrators don't test virtual desktop performance thoroughly enough. A good pilot program positions a VDI implementation for success.

A VDI pilot program is one of the most important steps in the transition from physical to virtual desktops because...

it prepares an organization for a successful, full-scale VDI deployment.

A pilot program is similar to putting a new ship through sea trials, or test flying a new airplane before allowing passengers to board. Starting a VDI project with a pilot program gives administrators a chance to thoroughly evaluate the infrastructure and software on hand, and then address any potential shortcomings before transitioning all their users over to a virtual desktop environment.

The most important thing to remember about a VDI pilot program is that the end users do not care the IT staff is transitioning to VDI. Users expect IT to provide all the resources they need to continue doing their jobs in an efficient manner as if they're all still using physical desktops. If workers experience problems with the VDI environment, or the virtual desktops somehow don't perform to their own expectations, you can rest assured the users will scream loudly. As such, it is critically important to spend ample time on a pilot program and to be meticulous and methodical in your evaluation.

Setting goals for a VDI pilot program

One of the first things admins should do when setting up a VDI pilot program is create an Active Directory group that controls access to the VDI environment. This first step will make it a lot easier to conduct your VDI testing, and then eventually migrate users to the virtual desktop environment.

There are plenty of methods for benchmarking performance without ever delving into the Windows Performance Monitor tool.

Organizations often conduct pilot programs in phases. For example, a company might start out by granting access to the VDI environment to only a few key members of the IT staff. As those administrators gain confidence in the VDI deployment, the next step is to expand the pilot program to include some power users from a few specific departments. Depending on the size of the organization and how extensively it wants to perform VDI testing, IT might expand the scope of the pilot program a couple more times, or even several times. Controlling access to the VDI environment through an Active Directory group will make it easy to adjust the scope of the pilot program on an as needed basis.

Once an organization establishes a mechanism for controlling access to the VDI environment, the next thing admins should consider is what they hope to accomplish through the pilot program. Sure, IT obviously wants to confirm the VDI deployment works, but there is more to it than that. IT must very specifically define benchmarks that determine whether the pilot program is a success.

Admittedly, the concept of defining success probably sounds like another example of corporate culture leaking over into the IT department, but it's actually very important. Without a clear goal, admins won't have a quantifiable way of determining if the VDI environment is ready for production use.

So how should a company define a successful VDI pilot program? On a broad level, an organization might label success as nothing crashing and all the virtual desktops delivering a reasonable degree of responsiveness. There are countless ways to expand this definition, however. For example, most companies probably want to test the security of the VDI deployment before considering the pilot program a success. Or, IT might decide the virtual desktops and infrastructure servers need to pass a series of penetration tests during the pilot process. Alternatively, admins could determine that a successful VDI deployment should deny users access to any resources they cannot get to from their physical desktops, and then use the pilot program to set up that type of virtual desktop environment.

Performance benchmarking

A good VDI pilot program also needs to include testing for specific performance benchmarks. Saying that virtual desktops should be reasonably responsive is a logical start, but admins need to define that responsiveness. Setting up quantifiable benchmarks lets admins measure responsiveness, but it also allows you to track VDI performance over time.

Some administrators absolutely love using performance monitoring tools whereas others are understandably a bit intimidated by some of the monitoring counters. The good news for admins that don't like working with raw performance monitoring data is that there are plenty of methods for benchmarking performance without ever delving into the Windows Performance Monitor tool. For example, IT could track the amount of time that it takes a virtual desktop to boot up, or the amount of time it takes for a user to complete the login process. The point is that there are a number of ways to benchmark performance, and it's ultimately up to the IT staff to choose which method they prefer.

Pilot testing is a critical part of any VDI project. The IT staff must make sure that the VDI environment can handle the stress of production workloads and still deliver an acceptable user experience before scaling VDI out to the entire workforce.

Next Steps

VDI pilot programs help determine storage needs

Four tips for going from pilot to production

Which are easier: VDI or DaaS pilot programs?

This was last published in February 2016

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