Accelerating Desktop Virtualization Deployments

Given all the buzz about desktop virtualization, is the technology right for you? What's holding up adoption, and what should you know before you embrace the technology?

There's considerable buzz about desktop virtualization, given its promised cost-saving benefits. If the technology is so important, why isn't adoption moving faster? What should you know before you adopt the technology, and why is user acceptance key to your project's success? To learn more about desktop virtualization, we contacted Simon Rust, vice president of technology at AppSense, a user virtualization technology provider.

Enterprise Strategies: What benefits attract IT to consider desktop virtualization?

Simon Rust: The ultimate benefit of desktop virtualization is the promise of a significant decrease in desktop TCO. By centrally managing each desktop, enterprises can dramatically save on desktop management costs and decrease help desk calls. Desktop virtualization can also be extremely helpful in the event of server or client hardware failures.

Each enterprise looking into desktop virtualization has its own list of why it wants to adopt desktop virtualization. CIOs and top-level executives look at the cost savings the technology can deliver; the IT department considers the time savings. Either one of these benefits is attractive to enterprises and plays a key role in why they consider adopting desktop virtualization in the first place.

What are some of the main challenges enterprise face when adopting desktop virtualization?

There are many challenges along the route of desktop virtualization, the main ones being: storage optimization and performance, standardization, application delivery, desktop performance, high availability, and user acceptance. These are all important aspects that must be managed effectively in order for desktop virtualization to be successful in an enterprise.

Storage optimization and standardization are both about cost and ensuring that the deliverable meets the financial needs of the organization. Storage is key because it is the most expensive part of a data center; standardization is also important as it allows components to be built once and then delivered many times to the user population, thus reducing operational costs.

Application delivery into the virtual desktop(s) needs to be well thought out because not all applications can be built into the core image. Some applications must be delivered by some other model.

Desktop performance, high availability, and user acceptance are all about longevity of the deliverable. If the performance and availability of the desktop (and hence the overall user satisfaction) is not high enough, then regardless of how great the TCO of the solution is, it will not be successful.

Are the resources needed for a desktop virtualization project discouraging some shops from implementing the technology, or are they so low that they are encouraging IT shops in this direction?

I don’t necessarily think it’s about the resources that desktop virtualization requires. I believe that there are a significant number of enterprises poised to make their entry into desktop virtualization but are waiting to hear of other success stories before venturing in. Desktop virtualization is new to many IT administrators and, as a result, they are not very eager to jump into new projects where there are significant unknown elements.

This certainly seems to be the case given the recent years of budget cutbacks and project stalls while the economy has pulled back into line. We will invariably see greater general movement once there are a few of well-publicized solutions.

What are the “must knows” and “gotchas” IT should understand before starting to deploy desktop virtualization? What is the first thing that should be considered?

On top of the high-level business requirement of ensuring that the storage optimization is suitably managed, there are several other key areas where the enterprise needs skills before jumping into creating a desktop virtualization solution, such as: choosing the application virtualization model to use, where the user population resides, where the data resides, and how an acceptable user experience is defined.

Knowing what the user population looks like and what they require from their application set is right at the top of the list -- in addition to being aware of the connectivity available from their working location(s). Having the full picture of how the user needs to function will put the IT administrator in a far more effective place to create the correct overall solution.

This all comes under the heading of user experience, and we must not lose sight of the fact that the user experience is the most important aspect of desktop virtualization. Without an acceptable user experience, projects will not be successful, whether these be desktop virtualization or otherwise.

What are some of the strains desktop virtualization puts on your existing desktop environment and how can these be prevented or eased?

The enterprise user has become more technically savvy over the last few years and now expects far more from IT. The result is that user experience considerations are far more important today than ever before. Therefore, the main strain is the simple fact that there must be a clearly defined model to migrate from the existing environment into the new desktop virtualization world, and to make the new solution simply better than the one it replaces. The user experience is today the key aspect of any IT project, so ensuring that the various aspects are considered will pay dividends to your project's success.

Once an enterprise begins to roll out desktop virtualization, how fast or slow should they go in the deployment process to achieve the greatest benefits of desktop virtualization?

In all honesty, the actual rate of deployment will have little effect on whether the greatest benefits will be realized. The greatest benefits will be realized when the enterprise has considered exactly why they are considering desktop virtualization and will depend on if they have successfully planned out and subsequently deployed those key aspects listed in a previous answer.

For example, the cost benefits are really about standardization, which leads to lower management costs, less maintenance, and reduced operational costs. However, as I mentioned, the user experience must be considered as important as the business cost benefits. The users being satisfied with the experience of their new working environment, along with key standardization techniques being employed in building the solution, will result in the greatest benefits of desktop virtualization, along with the most cost-effective solution.

Accelerating desktop virtualization deployments has become an increasingly hot topic. What do you think is key to accelerating the deployment?

The key to accelerating any desktop virtualization deployment is planning out the project in a structured manner and considering all of the key factors. As I said, there are a large number of enterprises that are poised to make their first step into desktop virtualization, most of whom are beginning to formulate their plans but are waiting for proof points for the technology that is still considered adolescent by many.

The most important aspects are about simplification by standardizing the moving parts, simplifying the process of building the desktops by sharing the operating system image amongst the user population, and then layering in the application set by making use of a solid application virtualization solution. Therefore, a key aspect is selecting a suitable application virtualization technology and driving its success in the enterprise by capturing as many applications as possible and packaging them accordingly for the user population. If there are too many applications to virtualize in the project timeframe, then the enterprise needs to decide which applications are the most important and/or frequently used. They need to virtualize them and then potentially make use of some third-party technology to deal with other user-installed applications by policy. This ability may be a key aspect that guarantees user satisfaction and ultimately acceptance of the desktop virtualization solution.

We are finding that the area of user virtualization, where the user data is abstracted from the application and operating system layer, is an aspect of the solution that is helping customers win the user-experience battle. That is, when the user experience is managed with a user virtualization solution, the user acceptance is typically much higher and results in more successful projects. This, in turn, helps with the overall acceleration of projects.

Desktop virtualization can take a bit of time to achieve the ROI it promises. Do you have any best practices that can accelerate the ROI?

The two largest factors in ensuring the greatest ROI include minimizing the storage requirements and standardizing the components that make up the desktop virtualization deliverable.

The single largest way to minimize storage needs is to make use of non-persistent pooled virtual desktops, radically reducing the data center storage requirements. To make this a reality, effective use and on-demand deployment of application virtualization will ensure that the applications required by the user population will be available and delivered in real time rather than trying to fill a single central desktop image with all the applications that the user will need. This, incidentally, deals with the need to standardize because the single central desktop image and delivering applications into this image are part of standardization.

The next key ingredient is to layer in the user layer by ensuring that the user personality is transplanted into the desktop and application mix, thus making the desktop virtualization deliverable personal to the specific user. User virtualization is every bit as vital as OS virtualization and application virtualization because it is effectively delivering the all-important user experience, which will ultimately help dictate whether the user population accepts the project, leading to whether the project is a success.