What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI? When a company with a large scale desktop PC deployment wishes to consolidate hardware maintenance costs, they may look to install a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) service, which hosts user desktop environments on server hardware that is stored in a remote datacenter. The datacenter might be located off premises hundreds or thousands of miles from the end user. Instead of using a full-on desktop PC, the end user instead uses a thin client system (essentially a processor, monitor, and peripherals) which draws computing power and data from powerful servers in the datacenter as needed over a network.
VDI streamlines costs for companies especially by centralizing the all expensive hardware and software that does the heavy lifting, which is especially beneficial when IT extends across several physical locations. Companies like Citrix and VMware are the main players in the software used to administer VDI, and Windows Server 2012 R2 Dataceneter has features built into it that accommodate configuration of large scale virtualized Windows environments.
To get an idea of what rolling out Virtual Desktop Infrastructure takes, we spoke with IT consultant and Spiceworks trainer Grey Howe, who is knee deep in the process at the moment. Here we will go over the tools and methods Mr. Howe employs for the job.
HardBoiled: Briefly describe the type client you’re servicing for this VDI rollout—the nature of the business, the number of users, and IT environment you’re working with.
Grey Howe: The VDI rollout is starting with a proof of concept for 20 local users. The current administrator has done a one-virtual personal computer (VPC) to one-person deployment, as you might do for a server farm. Unfortunately, I’m having to re-educate and fight small battles here and there to get it rebuilt in a real VDI scheme, the way it’s designed to be deployed. There are some side projects, like a new e-mail server, chat server, and training, to go with all of these projects. I’m really excited about VMWare v6.1’s new Linux VDI capability and deploying that as soon as I can. I just saw it demonstrated at vForum in Denver.
For the VDI implementation, what are toughest IT challenges you’re dealing with?
The main challenge is just redefining the expectation. Because they were doing the one-to-one plan, the hardware is very overprovisioned. There’s also some anti-Microsoft sentiment that I have to battle through. I love that the hardware and machines don’t care. They do what you want. It’s getting the people on board with everything that’s always a challenge.
What are some of the solutions your clients looked at but ultimately rejected for the VDI project?
Luckily, this project was easy. They knew what they wanted and just dropped everything on me. The hardware was set up, to a point, and I just have to complete the configuration. Now that I’ve switched from the old plan to the more efficient method, it’s a little different. I haven’t had to do anything except stand up servers where needed, and get people involved.
Please talk about the hardware and software that you’re using to tackle the challenges.
We’re using a 12 TB EqualLogic SAN that connects to a Cisco UCS VM CPU farm. All of the VDI is running on those two pieces with Veeam backups. The new Active Directory (AD) is great and integrating really well, especially now that I’ve gotten folder redirection completed. I looked at doing roaming profiles too, and after some discussion, I’ve decided to eliminate that process and do personas from VMWare. That’s another server that I have to create.
There are no security or log servers either, so I’m working on those. I’ve also deployed Spiceworks to monitor all of their systems and handle tickets, so I’m able to track my work and what needs to be done.
I also use OneNote a lot. Like, a whole lot. I love OneNote. I use it on my Surface Pro 2 and it’s the killer app for everything. It syncs to all my platforms (Android, Windows 7, and Windows RT) so I know what milestones I’ve completed for every client that I have. I even use it to share whole notebooks with clients so that everyone is, quite literally, on the same page. I also use the typical software like remote desktop, and KiTTY, which is a fork of PuTTY that adds some nice features for modern Windows users.
Can you offer pointers about deployment or installations for someone handling a similar job?
Training is key, and if someone doesn’t like it, they won’t use it, so don’t take anything personally. I’ve done a lot of deployments for everything from Windows 7, to Lync, to Spiceworks and even whole office moves that had new card key systems and IP video monitoring. They would have all failed if not for the training performed for each project. You have to sit down with a majority of the users, or at least the key players, and show them exactly how to do things, and in some cases why it’s done that way.
I had a user converting from an old Avaya system that relied on handsets at each desk (nearly a POTS system) and had no enhancements for the desktop, to Lync. Our Lync deployment eliminated the handsets, using a USB based Polycom CX200 instead, along with the on-screen application for presence, IM and et cetera. This gentleman, after two years, retired from the company. In that time, he only used Lync if he received a call, and then only sparsely since he published his company-issued cell as his primary number—a flip phone with a dead battery that only worked when it was connected to power.
Wow. That is a brutal user.
I spent hours training everyone, including this guy, and in the end it was pointless as he refused to adopt. Everyone else loved Lync after the first 30 days of cutting over. In the end, it wasn’t up to me and I knew, after two months of prodding, that I would never get this guy on board. I gave up. It stopped bothering me and I moved on. Here I am, several years later, and he’s no more than an interesting story instead of the stress it could have been. I have a feeling that I’ll have a similar situation with my current project as we eliminate physical desktops.
In the end, what are the results you are hoping to gain with the VDI deployment?
Ultimately, we’re looking for a greater control over desktops, reduced administration/work for IT, and, with the chat servers, a more integrated team that’s able to communicate quickly and adapt to changes or fix problems very quickly. I’m really looking forward to the first dropped laptop or dead desktop so I can issue new equipment and everything just works since nothing is stored locally. I’m also a huge fan of the work from home ethos, so being able to enable that with VDI and help people work from their couch or off their android at the coffee shop is going to be a huge win for me. When we start getting regular tickets and moving to an enterprise culture, I’m going to have myself a cigar. Maybe, by then, the Cuba embargo will be completely lifted!
Grey Howe is a Network/Systems Administrator based in the Denver, Colo. area. He has more than 20 years of IT experience.