The infrastructure and management implications of Desktop Virtualisation

Desktops are now visibly mission critical

Desktop Virtualisation is a topic that has enjoyed considerable attention over the last year or two and mainstream organisations are now seriously considering how to utilise the solutions available. Early adopters of such solutions have already shown the importance of establishing the appropriate backend infrastructure requirements, notably in terms of the servers, storage and networking platforms, needed to deliver services day after day without the costs involved vaporising the budget allocated to the project even before work begins.

But even after designing suitable core systems able to deliver good desktop service quality, an even greater challenge must be tackled. This concerns devising, and implementing, suitable processes and procedures to manage the desktop infrastructure systems and ensuring that the management tools needed are acquired to support daily operations. After all, if a single PC or laptop fails, for whatever reason, only a single user is impacted.

Now clearly some users are more important than others, or at least can shout louder, but getting a single individual back up and running again is unlikely to negatively impact much of the business. But if a large server or storage array that forms part of a desktop virtualisation solution fails, many users will be affected and the consequences may well be visible very rapidly across the business, including the board room.

This means that desktop virtualisation support must be administered with excellent change management processes and operate on resilient back end infrastructure. Cheap and cheerful is unlikely to be a viable option when a significant proportion of business users depend on the solution to perform all their daily IT functions. Thus desktop virtualisation must be built and managed as well as any business critical system. Indeed, if desktop virtualisation is to progress beyond being a trial or proof of concept, it will become the latest piece of mission critical infrastructure in the data centre or computer room.

To ensure that desktop virtualisation systems operate effectively and transparently without being seen to inhibit users, the environment is also likely require new management tools to administer all aspects of things, preferably in an integrated manner. It is therefore essential to ensure that budget provisions are made up front to acquire suitable management tools and the training required to allow them to be utilised effectively. This challenge is one that should not be underestimated as our research indicates that it is notoriously difficult for many projects to procure management tools at any time except project kick off.

Even then it can be hard to overcome objections when the organisation is likely to already have a number of management tools that may cover some aspects of those required. The likelihood is that these are not integrated in any fashion making it very difficult to use them without considerable additional demands being made on already overstretched IT professionals.

But from an operational perspective there is another matter that may need to be borne in mind. Many organisations, especially large enterprises, often run distinct teams of IT staff each looking after their own specialist area and employing distinct tool sets. Server staff administer to the needs of the compute engines, storage gurus keep the data repositories functioning whilst the network team try to keep all the infrastructure pieces communicating, securely, with everything required to make services work.

It is essential that all IT groups ensure they have good cross domain operational processes in place to guarantee end users receive the service quality they require day after day, month after month. We already know from our regular survey work that the advent of ‘x86 / x64 server virtualisation’ is already posing challenges to operational practices in server, storage and networking teams as they try to get to grips with new ways of handling a much more fluid set of linked infrastructure components. So getting the work processes in place to support desktop virtualisation is essential if any project is move beyond the proof of concept stage with appropriate user acceptance.

There are many potential benefits to be had from deploying desktop virtualisation solutions to suitable groups of users. But modifying data centre and desktop working practices will require CIOs to accelerate the interworking of their IT professionals. This may well involve dealing with complex interpersonal challenges as well as handling elements of internal IT politics.

For more information on desktop virtualisation approaches and which solutions fit which different types of user as well as a more detailed consideration of the management challenges, please take a look at our Freeform Dynamics Smart Guide.


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Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.