Q&A: Monitoring the End-User Experience in VDI Environments

IT needs to supply the best customer experience while maintaining service-level agreements. We explain how VDI makes monitoring the end-user experience tougher and the best practices that will help you overcome these challenges.

IT can't depend on the help desk to be its eyes and ears on keeping systems running their best. A more pro-active approach is needed to monitoring the end-user experience, but such a task is made more difficult in a VDI environment. What can and should IT do? To learn more, we contacted Trevor Matz, President and CEO of Aternity Inc.

Enterprise Strategies: What's the purpose of monitoring the end-user experience, and what, exactly, does IT measure?

Trevor Matz: I've read surveys that report up to three-quarters of the reported help desk cases; IT first learns about performance and availability problems when the users call the help desk. That's because existing application performance management products are data center-focused and provide very little visibility into "real" end-user experience.

To understand the impact real end-user experience has upon business productivity, you must be able to measure and monitor the three primary components that dynamically interact to constantly impact how end users experience the IT services they consume in real-time.

The first is application performance. Latency, response time and end-to-end transaction time are all key elements in both the experience and measurement of application performance.

The second component is device performance. Even if the end-to-end transaction time of a particular app is excellent, if the underlying platform is sluggish – perhaps due to CPU power, memory availability, or other background processes that are resource hogs -- the end user's experience with what should be a well-performing application will be poor.

Ultimately, businesses deliver applications to enhance the productivity of end users, making user productivity the third component of the end-user experience. How many trades, calls, or e-mail messages can the end user perform using a particular application running on a specific desktop platform? Productivity is impacted by error messages, non-responding and crashed applications, boot time, and the actual usability of the application.

What are some of the technological challenges in such monitoring in a VDI environment?

Virtualization is a key disruptive technology for IT that requires radical changes in thinking and operating procedures to better plan, manage, provision, and orchestrate resources throughout the enterprise. In an environment where traditional system metrics (such as CPU, memory, and network utilization) are marginal indicators of performance, user experience becomes the only quantifiable measurement to manage against.

Using fact-based assessments to empirically understand the resources required to support multiple users -- each running a variety of applications across virtual desktop servers -- greatly improves an organization's ability to choose the best virtualization solution for their needs.

A strategy that combines experience-based virtualization assessment and planning with real-time performance deviation detection promotes optimization of guest virtual machine mappings in VDI scenarios. This ultimately creates a dramatic agility boost for adding new applications and desktops to the VDI pool. In addition, such a strategy can significantly reduce the hardware and management costs typically associated with manual or semi-automatic resource allocation.

What tools or techniques are typically used? What limitations do they impose?

Many organizations basically try to fit a square peg into a round hole by using data center-centric end-user experience management or application performance management tools to monitor and measure end-user experience in their VDI environments.

These widely adopted technologies are limited in their ability to provide comprehensive visibility into how end users actually experience the business applications they consume. They cannot effectively provide in-depth monitoring of end-user experience because they cannot measure the three components that dynamically interact to constantly impact how end users experience the IT services they consume in real-time: physical and virtual device performance, application performance, and user productivity.

And some of the newer VDI monitoring tools are able to monitor desktop processes, but their device-only focus provides a limited view of process health and resource consumption.

How are SLAs effectively managed in a VDI environment?

The applications delivered by today's IT organizations are the lifeblood of many businesses. According to analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates, large companies report that downtime can cost in excess of $15,000 per minute for technology-dependent organizations, as applications drive revenue, productivity, and brand value.

Therefore, the need for managing SLA compliance is crucial. Effective SLA management is an organization's way of validating performance and availability of all transactions for all end users, verifying if contractual commitments have been met and identifying outliers.

To effectively manage SLAs in both physical and virtual environments, organizations need comprehensive analytics capabilities so that they can benefit from recognizing performance issues long before end users do, and determine the extent and impact of the problem. This dramatically reduces the duration of business disruptions and the resulting costs of resolving these service level issues.

Organizations implementing VDI can then gain the confidence that their VDI platform(s) delivers optimal user experience; service providers can leverage such metrics to further differentiate their cloud-based hosted desktop offerings with built-in end-user SLAs.

Resource management in a VDI environment is critical, but many organizations don't have insight into before/after scenarios. How can organizations get this level of visibility?

Ultimately, enterprises need to ensure that their end-user experience management tool can measure the impact of any infrastructure change. With before-and-after comparisons, enterprises can compare transactional performance in physical and virtual desktop environments, and even between different VDI solutions. In this respect, the right end-user experience management tool is a must-have tool for planning, designing, and managing VDI solutions.

What are some of the biggest mistakes IT makes in trying to monitor the experience in a VDI environment?

I've already mentioned some of the limitations of tools and techniques typically used and the challenges around adopting monitoring tools that are data center-centric.

In addition, when evaluating virtual desktop environments, the top concern is always the potential performance hit. It's critical to ensure that your monitoring tool(s) can detail the impact of a particular desktop virtualization technology on any of your key business applications, whether commercial or custom.

What best practices can you suggest to avoid these mistakes?

Seriously evaluate your current set of monitoring tools and understand what it means to gain comprehensive visibility into the real end-user experience.

Understand that to effectively manage the end-user experience in a VDI environment, you must be able to close the visibility gap between IT's notification of application performance issues and what your employees/end users are really experiencing.

To close the gap, you need to have an integrated view of the multiple streams of data that together provide a clear portrait of real end-user experience. As a best practice, evaluate your current set and any new monitoring tools you plan to apply to your VDI strategy, and verify that they can, indeed, provide you with analytics around physical and virtual device performance, application performance and user productivity.

What products or services does Aternity offer in such monitoring?

Used by Global 2000 enterprises spanning multiple industries, Aternity manages the end-user experience across the full IT life cycle: planning, testing, deployment, orchestration, operation, and retirement.

Our Frontline Performance Intelligence (FPI) Platform monitors the three primary components that dynamically interact that I mentioned earlier at all times to define and impact an end user's experience as an IT consumer. FPI is the result of the real-time aggregation, analysis, and correlation of all these metrics, ultimately delivering user-centric, proactive IT management from the desktop vantage point. Specific to a VDI environment, Aternity's FPI Platform provides in-depth monitoring of the end-user experience in a production environment spanning tens of thousands of business users.