Technology, Cloud

If You Give a Mouse a Virtual Desktop

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It all starts very simply with giving the exuberant mouse what he wants, but before you know it, you're getting more and more urgent requests until, in the end, the house is in shambles, you're exhausted on the floor, and the mouse has started on a second cookie. So the fabled story goes, but it's also a somewhat accurate depiction of our lives managing desktops in the physical PC world. Life has been this way for a long time, and it's the reason we're so motivated to modernize the desktop into something that can increase our operational efficiency, lower our IT management costs, and give our mice, I mean, our users a more stable,  mobile, and secure version of their PC work experience.

Recently, the State of Ohio Department of Disabilities implemented 1,500 virtual desktops using desktop layering technology that has been instrumental in helping us tackle a whole host of desktop management tasks. Those range from creating a wide array of different desktops for varied use cases and maintaining user customizations, to simplifying operating system patching and repair, to  centrally packaging and delivering almost all our applications. Our results so far include reassigning 70% of  our desktop support staff to our strategic IT project backlog, and a 30% reduction in OpEx. Really? Really. Desktops that took 8 hours to provision can now be done in 30 minutes. That's a big deal all by itself, since we have 10 developmental centers across the state.  We've layered 65 different applications separate from our gold image, so our countless "gold" images are reduced to just one. It's all good news for our IT staff, too, since folks have now been relieved of cumbersome and time-consuming desktop support activities. Seven out of 9 administrators (that 70% I mentioned) previously needed to manage desktops have been re-assigned to email administration, SharePoint development, Cognos administration, and other strategic areas needed to improve service for DODD customers. The remaining 3 have become desktop layering experts.

 This desktop layering technology has been absolutely critical to helping us accomplish with our virtual desktops the high level of virtualization success we've achieved with our servers. I would even go so far as to say that without it, you could be looking at the type of CSE (Career Shortening Event) about which our Enterprise CIO Forum colleague, Jerry Bishop,  astutely posts here.

But do you really need desktop management software for VDI? Wasn't the whole idea behind VDI to simplify the very tasks described?

Yes, and yes. The reality is that virtual desktops rollouts have been fairly limited, with larger, mixed use case implementations like ours more the exception than the rule. Most virtual desktops are in kiosks, call center and labs -- non-persistent cases where customizations either aren't permitted or are zeroed out after logout. That's about 10 percent of the total of PC users - not exactly the right population for widespread ROI.  When VDI is attempted for desktops with use case and application diversity, the picture often gets bleak.  There are so many tools required to allow for access, persona, applications, OS images and storage that the VDI stack becomes very costly and complicated, and mobility, security, and compliance benefits just aren’t worth the trouble. 

New desktop layering technology  tips the balance back in VDI’s favor.  Layering gives you rapid application delivery, gold image patching and the ability to preserve all user preferences and persona changes - or not. Some of our users  receive fully persistent desktops, with all customizations preserved in the personalization layer. Others receive non-persistent desktops, and still others get a "semi-persistent" desktop, with restricted ability to keep some customizations. Employees love the new “follow-me” desktops because they can go into any office that has a thin client, sit down, and start to work. By sharing the same OS and application layers across many desktops, we can deliver these desktops on  about 70% less storage than full-sized clones, with each desktop running about 6-8GBs of storage.

I would like to say the moral of the story is that the mouse lived happily ever after, and never again made a request of the IT department. Stay tuned for part 2: "If You Teach a Mouse to Fish, He Sits in the Boat and Drinks Beer All Day." No wait, that story has a different ending.


Discussion
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pcalento
Paul Calento 256 Points | Fri, 11/25/2011 - 21:40

Virtual desktop pain points are well-documented and VDI layering appears to be one way to address these issues. I think for many non-adopter companies, the barrier is complexity and another layer of abstraction doesn't make implementation more likely. Perhaps, VDI should start with a new opportunity (say providing secure mobile access to existing enterprise apps), rather than an ROI/TCO and/or management perspective. The benefits to desktop virtualization are compelling, but many can't wrap their hands around how and why to get started. Certainly, challenges are being addressed through techniques, like VDI layering, but the rationale for choosing VDI needs to be more clear for many.

--Paul Calento

(note: I work on projects sponsored by EnterpriseCIOForum.com and HP)

jdodge
John Dodge 1332 Points | Wed, 11/16/2011 - 21:47

Hi Bryant and welcome to Enterprise CIO Forum. How long did this VDI layering effort take and how much was the upfront investment? And please describe the moments where you really had to hold your breath (pain points!).