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IT pros mix VDI with BYOD to simplify device management

BYOD shops that use VDI to give end users access to virtual desktops from iPads and other devices say the benefits outweigh the downsides.

IT pros that support BYOD have too many devices to manage -- but desktop virtualization could solve the problem by freeing IT from hardware management.

Like many colleges, McHenry County College (MCC) in Crystal Lake, Ill. supports bring your own device (BYOD) because its transient students want to use their iPads, Macs and laptops to do their work from anywhere.

Using VDI, the college's IT staff can deliver virtual desktops and apps to various types of tablets and mobile devices from the data center, which makes desktop management far more efficient, said Allen Vaughn, IT project analyst for MCC.

One IT consultant said more and more of his clients have turned to VDI for BYOD.

"VDI is more secure than a physical desktop and its more liberating, because whether I have an iPad, a laptop or a thin client, I can connect to my desktop," said Keith Norbie, VP of Nexus Information Systems, an IT consultancy based in Minnetonka, Minn.

Meanwhile, some IT pros say they can't imagine using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to deliver virtual desktops to iPads and other touch screen devices because of the possible performance and resolution issues.

But IT pros using VDI said that the option to access virtual desktops from remote devices outweighs any potential negative consequences. The central management benefits and security VDI affords also makes sense to the converted.

Moving to VDI for BYOD

MCC has increased the number of traditional PCs on campus from about 500 to about 1,700 in fewer than 10 fiscal years, due to the college's growth, a new satellite campus, plus more reliance on computers, Vaughn said. The IT team supports over 1,000 employees and nearly 10,000 students.

"We have a three-year refresh cycle, which is so onerous it is damn near impossible," Vaughn said.

Having already accomplished a successful server virtualization project, IT pros at MCC were ready to take on desktop virtualization next. But as many IT pros know, the two are different animals. VDI does not equal server virtualization in terms of cost savings, and up until recently, VDI products fell short on performance and features.

More on VDI and BYOD:

VMware shops using View 5 for BYOD realize VDI challenges

Consumerization of IT: What's VDI got to do with it?

Mobile desktop virtualization benefits and challenges: Security vs. ease of use

BYOD security: How application streaming and VDI can help

But, Nexus Information System's Norbie said that performance is acceptable. "On a scale of one to 10 -- 10 being a native experience -- the virtual desktop is around a seven or eight," he said. His company uses VMware View and ThinApp internally, but also sells clients VDI products made by Citrix Systems Inc.

MCC chose Citrix's virtual desktop software to replace its Microsoft Roaming Profiles/fat client environment as part of a Windows 7 upgrade this year. It uses a mix of Citrix XenDesktop, Citrix XenApp and AppSense software that runs on VMware's server virtualization platform.

The college chose Citrix and AppSense partly because those products run on any server hypervisor. "I am not locked in with this approach," Vaughn said. (By contrast, VMware View requires VMware hypervisors.)

The AppSense software lets MCC deliver personalized virtual desktops to students and faculty; they can log into their virtual desktop from any device and see their custom desktop on that device, Vaughn explained.

It's still early in MCC's virtual desktop pilot project -- in fact, as of early February only about 30 virtual desktops were in use. At this stage, print mapping remains a challenge. But overall, the project is going well, Vaughn said.

"We dropped from 22 to two pages of Group Policy," Vaughn said. Also, end user log-on times have dropped from as much as five minutes to about 15 seconds.

VDI on touch devices

One systems administrator at a freight rate comparison website said he has just started a VMware View VDI project where he uses Pocket Cloud from Wyse and View Client 5.0 to access View on his own devices. He said that both clients offer a good experience and though for the touch interfaces are "different," they are not bad.

"Wise users should adapt quickly," said Todd Mochamer, a senior systems administrator at the website. "Obviously, the phone is harder to use but the Pocket Cloud has a better interface pointer for easier usability on smaller screens."

There is certainly room for improvement, however. Mochamer said he's experienced timeouts and freezes when connecting over a public Wi-Fi network through a VPN. Those sorts of problems won't hold him back.

"While I have had issues, I feel confident I can iron them out and scale the solution appropriately," he said. "The big thing will be the storage subsystem and cost. If we can get [those] cost per year down to legacy desktop costs, then ROI should be through the roof."

And improvements are on the way with new tools from software vendors that are sure to improve the end user experience on mobile devices and tablets.

"The future is bright there," said Nexus Information Systems' Norbie. "Things like Project Octopus from VMware and HTML5 file sharing are going to be important."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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