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VDI and power users don't have to be oil and water

For a long time, it's been a fact of VDI that power users and VDI don't mix. But with advances in technology and a little planning, your power users could soon be booting up their persistent VMs.

VDI can work for all types of users, but power users have different requirements than task and knowledge workers...

have.

Tailoring desktops to users' needs is important to the success of virtual desktop deployments. Task workers only need one or two tightly controlled applications; knowledge workers have a standard set of apps they use to get work done. Neither class really needs to be able to customize desktops.

But power users may need many different applications and customizations. They're exceptions to most of the VDI rules, and they need different desktop configurations.

Power vs. task and knowledge

In most organizations, the task and knowledge workers make up the bulk of the user count, and they can use a standard desktop build because they usually access a consistent set of applications and have well-controlled environments. Task workers are often call center workers, and people such as HR, accounting and management employees are examples of knowledge workers. These are the types of users that VDI is a good fit for, and they are where organizations should start their VDI projects.

You can usually prescribe how these workers' desktops look and feel, and give them only limited ability to customize with VMware Linked Clones, Citrix Provisioning Services or some other magic to create many identical virtual machines (VMs).

Power users, such as software developers and creative artists, are different. They use unusual applications and require customized desktop builds to get their jobs done. Power users also have a higher level of technical awareness than normal users.

Mixing power users and VDI

One of the first differences between power users and everyone else is that power users need unique VMs. Their VMs should be full clones so that the customizations persist with the user. You might even allow users to be administrators of their own VMs so they can install software and change their settings. As a general rule, any user who needs admin rights to their desktop should have a full clone VM.

Power users also usually need more virtual hardware than task and knowledge workers. Their applications might need multiple CPUs or lots of RAM, and you should prioritize them when it comes to resource allocation.

With task and knowledge users, desktop VMs spend a lot of time idling. This lets you overcommit CPU and RAM without drastically affecting desktop performance. But power users tend to be more active, using multiple applications at the same time and often running processes that consume CPU and RAM for longer periods of time.

So that power users can get their work done in a timely fashion, you need to make sure their desktops get priority access to CPU and RAM. You might need to host their desktops on separate physical servers with less resource overcommitment, or you could prioritize the resources on the same hosts as the lower-priority users.

Power users may also need hardware accelerated video or a physical GPU to take over the heavy lifting of graphically intense applications. These workers might be Computer Aided Design or Geographic Information Systems users, or they could have to work a lot with images or video.

All of these desktop workloads have only recently become possible with VDI. To accommodate them you may need to add physical GPUs to your virtualization hosts. Such a hardware upgrade may be another reason for a dedicated set of physical servers -- it lets you avoid upgrading every server for the benefit of a small number of power users.

Other challenges of power users

Identifying power users and qualifying users out of the category can be tricky, too.

Some staff members might see prestige in being a power user and want to be in that group. Think of the partners in a law firm or the traders in a bank. Though their technical requirements may be more akin to those of knowledge workers, these people may want to be called power users. Carefully consider whether you want to expose the power user identification to your users. A less descriptive name for a power user desktop configuration might be the way to go. For example, a desktop called GIS may be a better option than one called Power users.

As the scope of VDI extends from the task and knowledge workers to power users, you may need to rethink some of the design decisions that suited less demanding users. Power users need more powerful desktops and will usually need more rights to their desktops. With the right infrastructure, VDI can accommodate many power user workloads that were unthinkable under VDI in the past.

Next Steps

Who should use VDI?

CRM training for power users

This was last published in November 2014

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Would you deploy virtual desktops to power users?
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i'm an intermediate power user and i love my Unidesk VDI machine. the personalization layer means i don't have a fully dedicated VM but i have browser plugins, office plugins, a custom clipboard scrubber, special use apps like an alternative PDF printer and PDFSAM, and highly customized mouse settings all running on top of a VM that requires 0 extra effort from my IT guys. power users definitely don't require a dedicated VM in a Unidesk envrionment - it's the default setting and saves IT a TON of time.
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