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How to revive a failed VDI proof of concept

You've heard about all the benefits of moving from PCs to a virtual desktop infrastructure and decided to give it a go. You negotiated to get the VDI licenses for free and finagled to have it installed at no cost. IT has even added "private cloud" to their vernacular. Unfortunately, your VDI POC went as far as you can throw the server it runs on.

What happened and how can you recover?

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VDI projects fail for one reason or another. If you are about to start a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) proof of concept (POC), this article will help you avoid the pitfalls that many IT pros before you stumbled on. For those who have tried VDI and failed, use these tips as guidelines to pick up the pieces and turn it into the successful project you were hoping for.

Re-evaluate VDI assumptions
The first thing you need to do is ask why you embarked on the VDI journey. Were you proposing a quick return on investment (ROI) and/or a lowered TCO to reduce IT costs? Was it to shorten desktop delivery cycles? Was it to extend the life of existing hardware? Whatever the reason(s), IT justifications last about as long as the technology's ability to deliver on expectations.

Many articles written over the past year steer companies away from using ROI and TCO as justifications for VDI. Instead, look to some real-world applications that support VDI adoption. Here are a few:

1. VDI is successful in the finance and education industries because of the nature of their user base. The distribution of their user base makes support, system handling and maintenance difficult. In such environments, VDI can reportedly reduce support costs by over 50%.

2. Moving to Windows 7. Why deal with image distribution, multicasting and the headaches of hardware deployment? Using VDI, you'll have total control of the desktop deployment from anywhere to any device. The greater benefit is the ability to deploy changes in mass without physically revisiting the systems -- and the number of changes to a new desktop rollout is usually high in the early stages as issues are uncovered.

3. Bring your own device (BYOD or BYOPC) policies are becoming more and more common in companies today. VDI is a good way to deliver corporate apps to those devices.

Who to invite to the POC party
Have you ever attended a party that was more boring than watching penguins migrate simply because it was missing a few "life-of-the-party" friends? The same principle applies to POCs. Consider the users that you invited to test the system and assess whether they evangelized the concept.

Yes -- evangelism is required. A successful VDI POC is not one where you merely find the bugs and issues, but also where you excite the users about the new system they'll be using. Here are some types of users that are ideal for a VDI POC.

  • The "I-want-to-work-from-anywhere" user: These users are demanding and put in the extra hours. They are usually outspoken and have the attention of senior management. Use their strong voice to your advantage.
  • The "I-want-my-own-device" user: If BYOD is not a company strategy, don't try to get management support for it by yourself. Users can influence decision-makers with their collective voices and they can provide practical reasons.
  • The "I-want-my-app-access-now" user: One of the benefits of VDI and virtual applications is that it lets IT quickly deliver applications to users and empowers users with self-service provisioning.

You get what you pay for
If you wanted a free POC and it isn't going well, you got what you paid for. If VDI is a strategy supported by senior management, get some budget to hire a consultant with real-world VDI experience to help you with the design, concept and communication.

Most VDI implementations are done by VDI systems engineers who can setup and deploy. If you are still working to get business support for VDI, you need a consultant who has helped organizations successfully execute on the vision.

Get the team involved
Many VDI projects start with infrastructure and systems engineering teams because that is where virtualization expertise resides. But you also should include the desktop support and network teams. Though they may not have the virtualization experience, they have the most potential for understanding the value of VDI for the users (unless they think their jobs are on the line).

The user support group should be involved. If the user community likes their support group, then they are an untapped resource for spreading the word. If they are not liked, VDI may actually boost satisfaction scores by stabilizing the desktops through techniques such as non-persistent images the ability to support remote users. User support will also be able to manage desktops easier.

We normally don't think of the network engineering team as a beneficiary of VDI, but they are. One way it benefits them is by reducing LAN and WAN bandwidth to edge and remote sites. That's because the majority of network traffic happens between the client applications and the back-end servers. For example, when you use Outlook, there is a fat connection between Outlook and your email server. VDI allows you to put the applications closer to the back end therefore reducing WAN bandwidth. It also lessens CIFS traffic choking the network, improves remote user security and VDI simplifies VPN security policies.

If your POC succeeds, you'll need to get other IT teams involved in the project anyway. Hence, involving them early on gives them an opportunity to familiarize with the environment, which will reduce escalations to virtualization engineers when you get this show on the road.

Keep in mind that a VDI project is not a typical IT effort. It affects users directly and requires the involvement of more IT team members. While the benefits are well documented, you won't realize them unless you get full support and can execute it at the scale you are planning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eugene Alfaro
leads IT Engineering for Cornerstone Technologies, an IT engineering services firm in San Jose, Calif. He has architected, managed and operated corporate IT environments for multi-national companies since 1998. He has been a speaker on topics such as virtualization, WAN optimization, enterprise storage, Voice-over-IP and others. You can follow him on Twitter @Eugenealfaro.

This was first published in December 2011

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