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Four considerations for delivering VDI to mobile workers

Before you let mobile workers use their tablets and smartphones to access virtual desktops and applications, consider the kinds of sessions you host, whether the UE will be any good and how many IP addresses it will take.

VDI is a natural fit for organizations that make heavy use of mobile devices. It allows you to deliver virtual desktops to almost any device, providing a consistent end-user experience across device types. Even so, there are a few considerations that you must take into account.

Over the last few years, enterprise VDI use has gained traction. A big part of this trend is undoubtedly related to the proliferation of consumer-grade mobile devices being used for business as a part of the bring your own device trend.

Mobile devices can greatly benefit from VDI, but they can also present some unique challenges. As such, it is important to understand the effect that mobile devices have on VDI infrastructure before you allow or enable users to access virtual desktops from mobile devices.

Session type

The first consideration is the virtual desktop session type. Some VDI tools expose virtual desktops through a Web browser, while others make use of a client application (such as a Remote Desktop Protocol client). When it comes to delivering virtual desktops to mobile devices, you are often better off using a tool that uses a dedicated client app, rather than using browser-based sessions.

There are major differences between browsers from one mobile platform to the next. For example, a Microsoft Surface Pro uses Internet Explorer, whereas an Apple iPad uses Safari. These differences can lead to irregularities in the way virtual desktop sessions are displayed, and there may be anomalies with regard to the process of establishing or authenticating a session.

In contrast, dedicated client apps are platform-specific. A dedicated app practically guarantees you will be able to deliver virtual desktop sessions to the various platforms reliably. The disadvantage to this approach is that client apps might not be available for every mobile platform, depending on the VDI software that you use.

Implement appropriate geographic restrictions

One of the reasons mobile devices are so popular is that they allow users to work from almost anywhere. From a security standpoint, however, that anywhere access isn't always desirable, especially in regulated industries.

Before you begin delivering virtual desktops to mobile devices, consider where those virtual desktops should be accessible from. You may find that certain virtual desktops are suitable for global remote access, while others should only be accessed from within the boundaries of your firewall.

Consider device form factor

One lesson that users often learn the hard way is this: Just because you can connect a mobile device to a virtual desktop does not necessarily mean that you should. Some types of devices provide a less than optimal experience, and may actually decrease user productivity.

For example, some devices only have a touch screen -- they lack a physical keyboard or mouse. Although workers can use such a device to access their Windows virtual desktops, the end-user experience isn't always the best. The on-screen keyboard often covers key parts of the interface, thereby making it difficult to use applications running within the virtual desktops.

Similarly, low-resolution devices such as smartphones may not be able to display the entire virtual desktop on the small screen. The end result is that the user has to constantly pan and zoom the display to use the virtual desktop and any corresponding applications. Obviously, this is not an efficient way to work.

IP address consumption

One last consideration that is often overlooked is IP address consumption. VDI environments by their very nature result in a higher level of IP address consumption than desktop PCs. In a desktop PC environment, each desktop consumes an IP address. In a VDI environment, the thin client device on each user's desk consumes an IP address, but each virtual desktop also consumes an address; the adoption of VDI effectively doubles IP address consumption.

When mobility is brought into the picture, IP address consumption increases at an even higher rate. The reason for this has to do with the way that Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) leases work, and because workers may use multiple devices.

When a device connects to your network, it contacts a DHCP server to lease an IP address. The DHCP server grants a lease that remains in effect for a specific period of time, usually a few days. With that in mind, imagine the effect that short-term connections have on address consumption. Any device that a user connects to the network could potentially consume an IP address for days, even if the device is used for only a few minutes.

If a user alternates between devices, he could consume two IP addresses. Simply powering off a device does revoke the DHCP lease, however. As such, administrators must make sure that their IP address pools have sufficient capacity to accommodate the onslaught of mobile devices.

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How do you deal with the challenges of delivering VDI to mobile workers?
When we begin the process of delivering VDI to movie workers we set up a four tier question and answer strategy. We first ask how many IP addresses will be needed, will the UE be intuitive and worthwhile, how will the sessions hosted turn out, and finally, how secure will it be for the exchange of data and information across desktop and mobile device OSs. Once these questions are answered the successful implementation strategy begins.
I think there's another consideration as well: Are users asking for this type of functionality. Most are.

I just saw a stat that says VDI is going to grow at more than 32% by 2019. That's huge and due to, I think, the fact that end users are requiring whenever, wherever access.


Karen J. Bannan, commenting on behalf of IDG and VMware.