How to manage VDI
For many higher ed institutions, VDI or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, was thought of as the silver bullet solution to their computing needs across campus.
While VDI does offer a partial solution and addresses a couple of needs, it’s not without a hefty cost, long-term hardware and licensing lock-in, and a substantial management effort and skillset requirement.
Management of VDI focuses on maintaining individual virtual desktops and the backend infrastructure used to host them. It’s also important to do all of these things to identify problems before they cause user performance issues.
- Apply software updates
- Push registry keys
- Manage operating system services
- Monitoring to identify and correct performance issues
- Fixing issues
- Troubleshooting user issues
- Monitoring capacity
Management of the complete VDI stack starts with the infrastructure and includes storage arrays, possibly dedicated networking gear, servers, operating systems, and hypervisor. And, that’s all of the layers before you build your first desktop image. Next comes the VDI management plane, connection brokers, desktop gold images or templates, and then pools of the actual VDI desktops themselves. All of which need on-going care and feeding by a qualified system administrator. There are vendor security patches and updates, performance optimization settings, OS patches, and more. What’s more, is the need to orchestrate updates between components which involves reviewing compatibility and the interoperability of version releases.
Once your VDI environment is ready for production, you’ll have to decide on a software distribution solution, (whether internal or third-party) and prepare to get software out to users. This adds another layer of management and monitoring, both for on-going updates, but also for in-VM performance from the users’ perspective. Depending on the number of software titles, you may need to create multiple gold images and desktop pools thereby doubling or tripling your effort.
Before VDI deployment takes place, there are several key factors that should be considered to determine whether it’s the right solution for a particular organization.
- Can be done by the IT department
- VDI management tools can be used
It may be possible to split the overarching management of a VDI environment across two or more IT teams. First, the backend infrastructure could fall to a single senior team to handle the monitoring and maintenance of the various layers. Next, the VDI desktop management could fall to the same group that already manages campus labs as the tasks are quite similar in nature. Finally, the software deployment might be handled by the campus lab team or given over to a dedicated software team depending on what distribution mechanism is being used.
The single biggest departure from a traditional physical computer lab approach to campus computing, is the addition of the VDI infrastructure and new requirement for highly knowledgeable and skilled system admins to oversee it.
Benefits of a well-managed VDI solution:
- Keeps performance issues to a minimum
- Helps to maintain student and staff experience
- Less work than having to maintain and update physical desktops
As noted earlier, a VDI solution can address some of the issues that a campus IT team may be facing such as off-campus access and predictable hardware performance. Because VDI presents a consistent and reliable desktop experience with every login, IT teams and management can rest assured that once properly configured, their users will enjoy a good IT service.
There are myths that VDI requires less management than physical lab computers, however, certain tasks such as OS patching can be accomplished more quickly and with a higher level of confidence which provides another benefit to the IT team.
Overall, VDI may have a place on campus, but all considerations should be looked at and a complete understanding of the various investments that will be needed should be added to the equation. Regardless of running a small, large, or campus-wide VDI deployment, a solid set of management tools and staff with the requisite skillsets will be required.
It’s vital to make these considerations to ensure that a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is implemented properly and well, with all of the functionality required from the start. A failure to do this can result in a poor end-user experience and additional costs incurred late when the system needs updating or expanding to ensure that all students are provided with the access they need, when they need it.
Taking the time to assess the organization for suitability will ensure the best student experience, keeping them engaged and providing them with the ability to stay up-to-date with their studies, no matter where they are, the device they’re using or the operating system they’re using.
One of the most important reasons to carefully consider desktop virtualization as a solution is the overall cost and continuity. If the original solution does not work or is not adequate, additional costs will be required in order to change it.