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Five considerations for upgrading to Windows 8 virtual desktops

If you're putting your virtual desktops through a Windows 8 migration, check your hardware allocation, app compatibility and more -- before you start.

If your organization runs Windows 7 virtual desktops, you will probably eventually be faced with a Windows 8 upgrade.

Upgrading your virtual desktop environment to a new operating system is not a simple matter. The key to a successful Windows 8 migration is careful planning. Here are the most important considerations to take into account prior to upgrading to Windows 8 virtual desktops.

Hardware provisioning

One of the first issues you should consider is physical hardware provisioning. Virtual desktops reside on a virtualization host server, and they share this server's physical hardware resources. Typically, each virtual desktop is minimally provisioned, so as to maximize the number of virtual desktops that can reside on each host.

This minimal hardware provisioning can become problematic in environments where an operating system upgrade is considered. The hardware that is currently allocated to the virtual desktops might be inadequate to run Windows 8, depending on the OS that the virtual desktops currently run on. As such, it is important to determine whether your existing virtual desktop hardware allocation will be suitable for Windows 8.

More on Windows 8

Emulating the Windows 8 touch interface on virtual desktops

Changes to Windows 8 VDI licensing

FAQ on Windows 8

Application compatibility

Before your Windows 8 migration, also consider whether your existing application set will be compatible with the new OS. Compatibility probably won't be an issue if your applications have been virtualized, but you still need to test them.

If your applications are not virtualized, there is a very real possibility of encountering compatibility problems. Some technology blogs have incorrectly reported that any application that works with Windows 7 will be compatible with Windows 8, but there are some applications that simply do not work with Windows 8. For example, some applications that render graphics using OpenGL instead of DirectX will not work with Windows 8 virtual desktops.

Upgrading the gold image

One of the most important issues that you will have to consider is whether to upgrade the master image that all your virtual desktops are based on. On the other hand, you could build a new gold image from scratch.

Upgrading your existing gold image is the easiest approach. However, you will probably end up with a virtual desktop footprint that is larger than it needs to be, and it's possible that some applications may not function properly after the upgrade.

Most experts recommend that you create an image from scratch to avoid potential problems. Of course the disadvantage to this approach is that creating an image from scratch is a lot more work. As you prepare the image you will have to inject any device drivers that might be required and preload any required applications.

User and staff training

Perhaps the most widely overlooked aspect of the Windows 8 migration process is training -- for both the end users and the IT staff. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the Windows 8 interface is very different from the previous interface. Without at least some minimal training, end users with Windows 8 virtual desktops are sure to be confused by this new interface.

While it is true that Windows 8 is very similar to Windows 7 once you get beyond the interface, there are some differences between the two operating systems, and your help desk will likely have difficulty supporting Windows 8 virtual desktops unless they receive the proper training.

Test your Windows 8 migration

Finally, make sure to plan for a pilot deployment. The idea is to run a limited number of Windows 8 virtual desktops alongside your existing virtual desktops. This will give you the opportunity to find out how well the desktops perform in a test environment before you do a full-blown Windows 8 migration.

The pilot deployment will also give you a chance to evaluate your support infrastructure. Some of the functions that should be tested during the pilot deployment include OS imaging and deployment, patch management, desktop software inventory and management, and malware protection.

Migrating your virtual desktop OSes to Windows 8 is not a process to be taken lightly. There is a lot of work that must be done to ensure application compatibility and make sure that the virtual desktops deliver an acceptable level of performance.

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