If you're debating whether it's necessary to run a readiness assessment prior to rolling out virtual desktops, don't be fooled by vendors. It's an absolute mistake to skip a VDI assessment, and it's a mistake to try and do one yourself.
If you ask around, truly successful virtual desktop deployments start to feel a little like UFO sightings. There are a lot of stories about people who have seen them, but when it comes right down to it, they can be awful hard to find and see for yourself.
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What a readiness assessment can provide
Readiness assessments can allow you to avoid most issues, and there are a number of vendors that make software specifically for that purpose. However, these software solutions can give you a false sense of security. They give you important information, including reports on installed software, IOPS requirements, storage requirements, network consumption and a host of other things. The problem is that you need to measure more than technology readiness; you need to measure human readiness.
A good assessment will have some sort of logical flow to it that includes an objective assessment of people by people. Of course, each vendor handles it differently, but a good VDI assessment should look something like this:
Task 1. Setup of automated assessment software (Liquidware Labs Stratusphere FIT or something similar). Review of user groups and use cases.
Task 2. Assessor comes on-site to interview management team, including senior management. The objective is to identify what the commitment level and uses cases are in the organization.
Task 3. Assessor sits down next to users and observes how they do their jobs. The goal is to identify the target audience for VDI and see how those people live their lives.
Task 4. Continued observation of the users and a review of Active Directory/inventory of any group policy objects.
Task 5. Overview of network architecture, IP schemes and any existing virtual infrastructure that may be purposed to VDI.
Task 6. After a couple of weeks' worth of data has been compiled, assessor meets with IT to review results and discuss any anomalies in the data.
Task 7. All data, quantitative and qualitative, is reviewed, and recommendations are made to the customer regarding whether VDI suits the organization, and if so, in which use cases. The output should also include architectural recommendations and possibly even a project estimate.
Don't skimp on a VDI assessment
So, why can't an organization do this assessment themselves? Abraham Lincoln once said, "He who represents himself has a fool for a client." He was talking about the courtroom, but it applies to a VDI readiness assessment too. Bring in a third-party assessor. If you've ever lost your car keys and found them right in front of you, you know that many people can't see their situation objectively. Flaws and weaknesses blend into the background of the every day.
More VDI assessment resources
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A few reasons VDI might not be right for you
VDI project planning guide for beginners
Why then do some people proceed with VDI without an assessment? Why are there even vendors out there that would go forward without one? The answer is that it's always easier and faster to sell a dream than it is to sell pragmatic reality. For a vendor, the fastest path to a sale is to say what everyone would like to hear: "This is easy! We do this all the time and can tell you what you need without that assessment hassle. Let's get started!" My advice is: Set a higher standard.
As IT professionals, when you work in the data center you are largely invisible to the user population. Little glitches that occur in the data center sometimes don't show up on the end user's radar. It's different on the desktop. When you are tinkering with a user's computer, you are really tinkering with their productivity, stress level and livelihood. The stakes are much higher.
So, don't accept IT providers that don't see the need for a readiness assessment. Resist the temptation to do it yourself. Be open to the recommendations that you get as a result. The odds are that the extra money and time you spend on an assessment will save you a world of hurt and result in a successful VDI project.
This was first published in October 2013