This content is part of the Essential Guide: VDI assessment guide

Defining VDI users: Who should really be using virtual desktops?

To figure out whether your company really needs VDI, break down who your potential VDI users are and what exactly they need.

Before implementing virtual desktop infrastructure, take a step back and examine one of the major reasons to use...

virtual desktops in the first place: your users and what they do. So, what kind of users do you have? Let's define some basic end user types that should cover just about anyone in your company. Understanding your potential virtual desktop users and their needs will help you determine whether virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is right for your environment.

Type Examples Local? Remote? Mobile? Roaming?
Kiosk users Public, non-employee Yes No No No
Task workers Call center, assembly line, receptionist Yes Possibly, but often limited to out-sourced No Yes, between offices, branches
Knowledge workers SAP, finance, executives, sales reps Yes Yes Yes, especially sales and executives Yes, between offices, client sites
Power users Code developers, graphic developers, audio/video producers Yes Yes, various locations Not common since they need a lot of computing power and peripherals Yes, they want to be able to go anywhere and work

Kiosk users
Kiosk users refer to someone who walks up to a multi-user shared desktop, such as ones found in a hotel business center, and can use all its allowed functionality without providing any type of credential access. In my opinion, these machines are the perfect situation to deploy as a dynamic or "provisioned" virtual desktop.

You can deploy these kinds of virtual desktops to only connect to a non-secure network, and if anything goes wrong, it takes just a few clicks to spin up another. This method may only be financially and administratively feasible if you have many kiosks, have other types of users using virtual desktops in your company, or if you rely on a contracted partner to supply and maintain them for you.

Task workers
Another of our end user types is task workers. Task workers are also prime candidates for provisioned virtual desktops, because their data is critical to the business functions and usually won't require remote or mobile connections. If something happens to a customer service rep's desktop, for instance, it needs to be back up and running quickly.

However, many of these virtual desktop users -- such as call center employees or receptionists -- like to have personalized desktops. The ability to personalize is something to remember when making user decisions. You're bound to hear complaints about how they can't save files locally or their wallpaper background isn't what it was yesterday. All these things matter, right?

To assuage fears among potential VDI users, you could consider changing them over to a private virtual desktop, or a "1:1 image" as it's called. Still, by deploying that type of desktop, you could end up doubling or even tripling your per-desktop cost. Having said that, I have changed some desktops over to 1:1 images, and after all is said and done, it's sometimes the best thing for you and your VDI users.

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Knowledge workers
Knowledge workers, such as executives, are often a toss-up. I haven't had a client yet that has gone totally and completely virtual desktop for these folks, mainly because cost and return-on-investment comparisons didn't work out on the VDI side. Sometimes, virtual desktops just don't make sense for these potential VDI users.

These types of users often need mobile and remote access, but a virtual desktop may not be the answer here. You could provide a remote application delivery solution such as Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services (RDS) or Citrix XenApp instead, which can improve out-of-office productivity dramatically.

Power users
In my experience, power users generally don't become virtual desktop users. These are the guys who need the power of their hardware desktop, the hardware peripherals such as media readers and Watcom's, and resource-hogging software that just doesn't work well on a virtual desktop. You could devote a lot of back-end resources to give these VDI users what they need, but that calls into question your return on investment and how much work is involved on your part.

So, before you move to VDI, ask yourself what your virtual desktop users will need. Do your users really need a full desktop? Or do they just need to be able to access their applications? A lot of people forget that RDS also allows users to access remote applications. If that's all you need, RDS or Citrix XenApp could be just the ticket, and you could even combine those services with VDI for users that would benefit from complete virtual desktops.

Mike Nelson
has been in IT for more than 20 years, with exposure to a very diverse field of technologies and solutions. He has devoted over half a decade to virtualization and server-based computing. Nelson is currently a senior analyst at a Fortune 100 company in the U.S. Midwest.

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