Archive for June, 2010

Top 10 things to notice when making the move to a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

The sheer number of virtual desktop solutions on the market can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned IT staff, if you combine that with the unknown costs and virtual desktops becomes a non-starter before it even gets on the whiteboard. In an effort to make VDI evaluation and the subsequent roll-out a manageable reality, I have created a 12-step journey into VDI.

1. Analyze your environment/Determine your business case
IT historically jumps towards buzzwords, VDI being one of the more recent ones. Before you embark on a VDI journey you should make sure that you are truly solving a business need. You should document all your challenges, costs, and benefits of your current desktop environment, then compare them to a documented list of features you want in a VDI solution. Be prepared to present this solution to management with supporting costs and timetables. Your trusted reseller can help in determining the features as well as identify common challenges by running a desktop assessment in your environment including looking at your existing desktop hardware and installed software applications. You will be able to access this later to create an efficient practical VDI environment.

2. Categorize your users
In the same way that your accounting staff users require different software and desktop/laptop specifications than your engineering users, the virtual desktop requirements between those user groups will also differ. Separating the users into categories where the categories dictate the same or similar virtual desktop performance requirements (i.e., CPU and memory allocation) and the same or similar software package requirements will go a long way toward making the management of your VDI infrastructure easier (namely your desktop pools…more on this in Step 8 below). Most companies already have an org chart that is either broken down by department or location; this is a great starting point for your user categories.

3. Determine your base image
Now that you have your company broken down into manageable groups you can begin to determine a baseline that all your users or large groups of them will need. In my earlier blog (VDI Glossary) I defined a base image as the minimum desktop and application requirements for a set group of users. This would be used as a starting point for all full desktop deployments. When you analyzed your applications you found that some of the applications were installed on every workstation. These applications are most likely the start of your base image. This image is similar to the traditional “Ghost” image.

4. Create a pilot group
Do you have a small segment of users that are always willing to try out the latest and greatest software? This will probably make up 60% of your pilot group. You should also try to get 20% of your more challenging users, and then 20% of users that are standard for your user base. For the purposes of the pilot, it may be a good idea to exclude users who require the use of custom (non-COTS) applications as there may be unique challenges to publishing/virtualizing these applications. Ultimately the custom apps will need to be addressed, but for the purposes of the pilot, the 80/20 Rule in terms of satisfying the user base is probably a good idea.

5. Interview your pilot group
Your pilot group should not only be used as “Guinea pigs” for the VDI solution but they should also be able to tell you some of their current challenges and needs. Identifying and addressing those needs will create objective results at the end of the pilot. Some common questions to ask would be:
a) Are any of your current applications slow?
b) Do you have any applications that require a lot of processor of memory resources?
c) Can you access your apps remotely? If so, how is the performance? If not, do you want to?
d) Can you access your desktops remotely? If so, how is the performance? If not, do you want to?

6. Determine the first package to try
The questions from your interviews can help a lot at this point. You now have the basics of a requirements document. You know what the users already have and what they want. This is another good time to reach out to your trusted reseller as they should be able to take your requirements document and advise you on the viability of any particular VDI solution (e.g., VMware View, Xen Desktop, Microsoft Terminal Services) as they match up to your business and technical requirements.

7. Build a small test lab
Before you begin to roll out desktops to your users you should make sure your internal IT staff is comfortable with the product you have chosen. After all you will have to manage it after you have it deployed. One of the biggest benefits to virtual desktops should be ease of management. If you build a lab and find it is too hard to manage, start again with a different product.

8. Build your desktop pool
You have now determined a base image, selected how your applications will get published, and found a group of users to begin testing. A few things to keep in mind are the virtual specs of the user desktops, the original assessment should have given you some basic hardware configurations and requirements for CPU and memory that will keep the user performance as-is or better. The base image should also be tweaked to provide the best performance possible. Each of the VDI vendors along with Microsoft have whitepapers on optimizing Windows for virtual desktops, whether it be XP or Windows 7. Next comes the applications, between the interviews and the assessment you should have a list of applications to add to your first pool of virtual desktops. These applications could either be virtualized or added to a new base image. Depending on how you plan to present the applications might change your decision here. If you are only using the apps internal to your network and it is only being used by a few people then building it into an image and create more than one desktop pool would work well. If you find the application is going to be published out to remote users then application virtualization may be the right route, minimizing the need for more than one pool.

9. Determine your profile solution
The single largest pain point for most VDI deployments is dealing with the user data and profiles. My VDI glossary highlighted that the user profiles can contain all the settings that a user would change, to include the desktop background, files and icons on the desktop, and any settings assigned through application installation. Roaming profiles are built into Windows and are free but do you want to manage them? If you already have your documents redirected adding your profiles might not be a bad option. Will the users always be on the same virtual desktops? If so then you might be able to get away with using traditional profiles. Profiles can also be managed by a number of third party profile management packages that allow for the users desktop and icons to show quickly without refreshing the data from the server every time.

10. Rollout to your pilot group
Your pilot group knows you are about to give them a solution you hope will answer their concerns without compromising their productivity. This gives you the advantage that these users normally are anxious to give you all the feedback you could possibly want. Don’t be afraid to change things during the pilot phase. These users know that the virtual desktop infrastructure is still being built and will need tweaks. Don’t move forward though until you feel you have addressed all their concerns. If the solution does not address the concerns then look back at a different option. You don’t want to roll out to your entire company only to find that the one small issue actually impacts ¾ of your executives.

11. Gather feedback
Set your pilot at a specific timeframe and gather feedback from your users on every aspect of their experience, from transition to the virtual desktops to the hardware you used for them to access, to the performance of applications.
12. Begin your full implementation
As with any project you should have a lifecycle that allows you to go back to a step and adjust before moving forward. Once you are at a comfortable point with your feedback it is time for the full rollout.

Many analysts will say that virtual desktops are the future of IT. Hopefully by following the steps above you are able to determine if they are the future of your IT shop.

BYOC: How to Make It Work

How do you save your company money?

That’s easy. Stop buying desktops every few years. Sounds simple, but there is a problem– users seem to need workstations to do work. The answer comes in the “Bring your own computer” policy you are seeing implemented at many of the mid to large size firms around the world. BYOC comes in many different flavors, but the most common seems to be companies setting a price point for computers, somewhere in the $1,200 range, and then giving employees that much of a stipend and having them go buy whatever they want. If they find a good deal they will get a better machine, or use some of their own money and buy something more powerful.

The problems with this concept are rather significant.

  • Users will tell anyone who asks that they are not computer savvy cheap football tops and want the “Help Desk” to fix their computers. Non-standardized hardware creates headaches for IT departments.
  • Company data will be held on computers that users own.
  • New employees need computers as soon as they start. Do you want to give new employee a large sum of money not knowing if
    they will remain with the company?

While it seems that BYOC could save your company money, it also Cheap Barcelona football shirts adds lots of risk. That is why companies have to find a middle ground solution. For most companies, a best-fit solution is to combine a virtual infrastructure with a restricted BYOC policy and the use of thin clients. Let me explain why.

Using virtual desktops allows companies to control the user experience for all business applications. Your company can now provide a machine with the basic operating system, productivity applications, and business applications needed within a single window. Most cheap football shirts companies have multiple systems that need to be accessible from the internet and open security holes. With virtual desktops all those applications would be getting accessed through the internal network with only a few standard ports being open to the internet. This extra protection is sure to be one item that your board members will like to hear about. Virtual desktops also keep the data off the users computers and allow your company to maintain a backup of the data through the same methods IT departments use to maintain backups of server data.

Then, addressing another big concern; how not to give a new employee Cheap Real Madrid football shirts a large sum of money towards a computer without the risk of them leaving within a few weeks or months. This is where thin clients fit perfectly. By maintaining a small selection of thin clients, new users can each be given a thin client to use initially, with the stipend for a computer being a benefit that is gained over time. Since the thin clients will last on average twice as long as the workstations, cost is minimal and saves a great amount of risk. These same thin clients can be used if a user needs to take their BYOC to the store for repairs. Your employees would have the same desktop experience they had on their personal machine and your company would not be without a resource during repair time.

Will BYOC work for every company? I doubt it. Some cheap football kits companies may be concerned their workforce changes too often. Others need machines always placed in specific locations like retail. But for the knowledge worker of today that has blurred the line between work and home, having a business virtual machine on a personal workstation may be the perfect balance to protect the user and the company.

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Location Based Applications with ThinApp and View

Virtual Desktops can be considered both the newest and the oldest craze in IT. As a leading technology integrator, Clearpath has been able keep up with the craze and stay ahead of the curve with multiple deployments around the VMware View suite. One of the best and most underrated components in the View suite is ThinApp.

ThinApp gives you the ability to package applications and stream them from a file server to the users. When combined with the View Connection Broker you can present an entire user experience from the operating system through specific applications assigned from the IT staff. Sounds great, but what if I don’t care about the user and want the applications to always be installed on specific machines? This is especially useful in organizations looking to deploy virtual desktops across kiosk-styled thin clients.

Well, we can now do this through a little scripting and the use of Group Policy ADM files that ship with View. The viewagent.adm file is deposited on the Connection Broker automatically during install and can be imported into a Group Policy Object (GPO) on your domain. The key to the .adm file and accompanying GPO is the ability to run scripting based on the local client. This is effectively accomplished by pulling registry information from the guest VM OS. You have the option of everything from the IP address to the host name or even the MAC address. To illustrate, I’ve pulled together a script that allows you to register a specified application to any machine named accordingly. In this example every machine in the “Blue Room” is named “BlueRoom-XXX” and all the applications in the “Blue” folder will get published to it along with everything in the “All” folder.


 

Const HKEY_CURRENT_USER = &H80000001

Set WSHShell = CreateObject(“WScript.Shell”)

Set objShell = CreateObject(“Shell.Application”)

Set wmiLocator=CreateObject(“WbemScripting.SWbemLocator”)
Set wmiNameSpace = wmiLocator.ConnectServer(“.”, “rootdefault”)

Set objRegistry = wmiNameSpace.Get(“StdRegProv”)

sPath = “Volatile Environment”

lRC = objRegistry.GetStringValue(HKEY_CURRENT_USER, sPath, “ViewClient_Machine_Name”, vMachine)

lRC = objRegistry.GetStringValue(HKEY_CURRENT_USER, sPath, “ViewClient_IP_Address”, vIP)
lRC = objRegistry.GetStringValue(HKEY_CURRENT_USER, sPath, “ViewClient_MAC_Address”, vMAC)

tokens = split(vMachine, “-“)

Room=tokens(0)

Select Case (Room)

Case “BlueRoom”
   WSHShell.Run(“””\appsservthinapp$thinreg.exe”” /q “”\appsservthinapp$All*.exe”””)
   WSHShell.Run(“””\appsservthinapp$thinreg.exe”” /q “”\appsservthinapp$Blue*.exe”””)
Case “RedRoom”
   WSHShell.Run(“””\appsservthinapp$thinreg.exe”” /q “”\appsservthinapp$All*.exe”””)
   WSHShell.Run(“””\appsservthinapp$thinreg.exe”” /q “”\appsservthinapp$Red*.exe”””)
Case “OrangeRoom”
   WSHShell.Run(“””\appsservthinapp$thinreg.exe”” /q “”\appsservthinapp$All*.exe”””)

End Select


 

If your naming convention does not have a “-“ in it or maybe you need to use the second part instead of the first, you would change the following lines:

tokens = split(vMachine, “-“)

Room= tokens(0)

Simply change the “-“to your delimiter and if you need the third part you change the tokens to (2). Machine_1_BlueRoom would then still use BlueRoom as the variable.

If you want to use an IP address as your test and the subnets are different just use the tokens = split(vMachine,”.”). Then Room=tokens(2) would give you the third octet (i.e. if the IP is 192.168.121.3 the variable result would be 121). Remember this is not a number, it is a string, so greater than (>) and less than (<) will not work.

Need more than three options? Just add to the case statement. ThinApp now behaves as a location-based environment as opposed to user and/or OU.

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