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A CEO's personal voyage through virtual desktop migration

Learn about one man's journey through the perils of VDI as he converts his physical workspace to a virtual desktop environment.

When I was 5 years old, I hit a tree -- hard -- while skiing. Today, as I begin my virtual desktop migration journey, the lessons I learned back then stick with me.

I remember trying to correct the situation as my body veered off the trail that day, but it was no use. The mistakes that led me to that moment were small and cumulative since I had first started down the hill. Each misstep compounded the one before, until there was nothing more to be done. Of course, I was 5, so I flailed my arms like a madman and screamed like I was on fire.

My first concern is: What devices do I get to use?

I've made the decision to convert to a virtual desktop, and it reminds me of that cold winter morning. VDI deployments are like that accident. It's rarely one big mistake that results in a problem; it's the culmination of small assumptions and poor choices that will get you in trouble. Hitting the tree hurt, and as the CEO of a growing IT company, I can't afford to hit the tree.

As I plan and execute my own personal migration to a virtual desktop over several weeks, I will keep a journal that will be recorded here in four parts. My hope is that by communicating my successes and failures, some of you will be able to go from walking to skiing without the unpleasant side trip.

I determine my needs

My company builds VMware infrastructure, which gives me quite a bit of flexibility in my migration. So, first things first: What do I need to virtualize? My personal technology is pretty typical of an average executive today. I have an Android phone, an iPad (full disclosure: I really only use it for Netflix, CNN and Facebook), and a Windows 7 laptop. My office laptop has a docking station that's connected to dual monitors, and I have duplicated that setup at home. I don't need two computers; I simply undock at work, and dock at home.

My use case seems simple enough on its face. The first priority is email, the second is, the third is my accounting package and the fourth is my quoting application. I travel frequently, so I need to work from the road, and I also do a bit of video editing for fun. At first blush, you might think, "How hard is it to virtualize that?" My fear is that it may be more difficult than I think.

Most companies that virtualize desktops handle executives last. They go for low-hanging fruit such as call centers and back-office employees first, because those groups are the least likely to jam an unsupported thumb drive into a thin client's USB port. They also won't get super upset if video performance on is a little sub-par, and they aren't going to have the mobility issues that executives have.

Unfortunately, I need the whole spread: mobility, good video performance, access to files from anywhere (even without an Internet connection), USB support for whatever my client might hand me, great performance for my CPU- and memory-intensive applications. To top it all off, I need it all to be very secure. To accomplish this, I met with my engineering team, and we settled on an architecture that meets these obligations. But before we get to that, like any good end user, my first concern is: What devices do I get to use? 

I choose my devices

Selecting my devices hasn't been easy. My personal tech has to meet a number of obligations, and, obviously, I don't want to cart around a ton of devices. In fact, I want no more than three: my cell phone, my primary compute device and my iPad.

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My iPad has a VDI client on it, so that's not an issue. Likewise, my Android phone has a client and, more important, it's the key device upon which I read my email. So, my primary compute device is where the big decision has taken place. 

The first thing I realized is that while I could still use a laptop and dock at work and home, I'd rather not do that. The value of VDI is that I could avoid the hassle of having my endpoint on a domain and also avoid maintaining operating systems. So, I selected a Dell Wyse thin client with hardware PCoIP capability for the office. At home (only because I am curious), I chose a 10zig thin client, which also offers hardware PCoIP support.

The great thing about these thin clients is that both offer excellent USB support, multi-monitor capability, and can deliver great video as a function of hardware PCoIP rendering. In both cases, I just sit down, log on, and my virtual desktop takes over. There's no need to remember to bring my laptop and no issues with docked versus undocked profiles. Best of all, if I lock my desktop when I leave, it loads at home without losing its state.

With home and the office taken care of, I needed to deal with that on-the-road issue. To do that, I headed to my local electronics store … which I am now banned from. It turns out they don't appreciate it when you purchase and return six devices before settling on one. In my next journal entry, I review each device.

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What was your first step when deciding to deploy VDI?
Why not go for the low hanging fruit first with a good test plan?
I determined that I needed to also serve my clients when they were in the office or working from home and I need the best in desktop security to disable the ability to copy and redistribute confidential file.
I like where you are going, however I would be interested why you chose the top down deployment? Liiking forward to the next installment
I have two laptops, two notepads, three cellphones, a VoIP phone, Google Phone & MagicJack phone line. I have two 45-inch monitors, two illuminated (Microsoft) keyboards and a bluetooth keyboard (for my Xoom notepad). I take one laptop to work, and it's got three virtual drives on it, for my different clients. I have been using virtual drives since 2000. I was legally blind till 5 operations in early 2012, now I can see again, but I'm very used to having those two big monitors and working in my home office with only the light from the monitors and the illuminated keyboards (better for my eyes). For my security-related client, I destroy the virtual drive every night and recreate it in the am (after 13 years it only takes a few minutes and I automated the process). Oh, and I have triple boots too. :) Oh, I c, u thought all the 'real geeks' were 18? No. The REAL geeks are MY age, late 60s, or older. (Don't buy into 'madison ave/tv show' baloney.) So why two machines working? I have cloud drives so I open something in one machine, have it sitting on the 'big screen'... keep my 'frequent' files sitting on the laptop screen(s). Then I work on my other laptop and use the second one for 'reference'. My keyboards are sitting in parallel on a big tv-tray in front of me, ditto for their mouse(s). If I am writing a whitepaper or training guide and I postulate something, then I can turn to the second machine, do the analysis in excel and view the charts/graphs... if I like what I see (if it reflects what I believe to be 'truth'), then I add those stats into the doc on the first laptop (I open a copy of the excel doc on the second machine and copy the data into the first machine doc, so there's no possibility of repetitive work/human errors). I can't believe you are just NOW going virtual. Amazing how far behind the times you are. Really.
I cannot believe you are just now going virtual. I've been running in a virtual world since late 1999/early 2000. I have two laptops (just sold my desktop machine because I was only using it to play pandora music). Both are high-speed gaming laptops (but no I don't waste my time playing games, that's for kids) with 19"-monitors. I have two 45 inch external monitors too, and each machine has a separate microsoft illuminated keyboard, allowing me to work in my (home) office with all the lights off since I often have very late night meetings (singapore, etc.). I keep a spreadsheet / database up on the second machine and do my 'live' work on the first. The two keyboards are parallel to each other on a big tv-type tray. When I'm working up a proposal, I verify my estimates in the spreadsheet, then if I agree with the graphs/charts I copy that info into the proposal doc open on the first machine. Yes, "copy", since I am working in my own private intranet I just grab the data from a second-copy opened on the first machine. I am working in virtual worlds too. Have been working THAT way since 2000, why did you wait so long??? It is true I am a genius (high school grad at 10) and working in technology since 1960, but even so ALL my employees use virtual ware, but no way in heck would I let them BYOD. I maintain tight security on devices. Even with 800 employees (mature nanotech startup) I reserve the right to have admin rights to all corp laptops. It is insanity to let people use their own devices. Right now there are a dozen colleges in the Beijing area that have 'computer' students who are being taught how to hack. Those of us who know how to stop those things have also been WARNED by homeland security NOT to follow the !@#$ little cod-sheeats out and take down their servers, more's the pity. hmmm. Are you one of those ppl who think the 'geeks' are gen-x/y's? Some of us are retirement age, actually the BEST of us are retirement age. After all, who do you think invented the internet? Tim Berners-Lee? Al Gore? ha ha ha ha ha
RIch1126 - I should have been more clear. There are plenty of people in my organization that already leverage VDI, so it's not really a top-down deployment. I had been holding off on my own conversion for some time, largely because of time constraints.... but also in part because I thought my system was a little more complex than some. This series is about my personal experience with the transition. I thought it might be helpful to people because I often hear that they are worried about virtualizing their executives.
VioletWeed - I appreciate your comments. Again, I should have been more clear... I've been a long-time user of a number of cloud and virtual technologies. I started life with Citrix Winframe and have progressed through the virtual desktop lifecycle from there. I've typically leveraged VDI for lab environments as well, but hadn't yet fully departed from a locally installed OS for my primary work laptop.

I've started writing this series because I think a lot of people have been cautious about moving to a fully virtualized desktop operating system. It's good to hear about your experiences with cloud technologies though. I think the more we all discuss our own use cases, the more mainstream the technology will become. It helps the solutions to seem more approachable, which drives adoption. Thanks again!
How have you decided to set up or acquire a desk top solution for work or at home that would not allow the user to copy and remove confidential data files. Secondly how would you deal with someone stealing your desk top device and using this to capture , copy and redistribute these confidential files?