Brian Walker, Network Administrator at the University of North Texas, took the time to help me understand what his organization is doing with their virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and how they're using Unidesk (see Unidesk launches Unidesk V1 ). Thanks, Brian, for taking the time to help us understand what you're doing and the benefits of that approach
Please introduce your organization and describe your role.
I’m Brian Walker, Network Administrator at the University of North Texas (UNT) Dallas. I’ve been in information technology for 12 years, joining UNT Dallas in 2009. It’s an exciting time because our campus has been transitioning from a branch of UNT to a free-standing, degree granting institution. We are growing very quickly, adding new buildings and doubling our student population, but like everyone, we are under budget constraints. One of the ways we are being good stewards of campus resources is to implement server virtualization and, more recently, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). It’s especially important that this goes well as we bring on new faculty and our first freshman class this fall.
What are you doing that needed this technology?
We started investigating VDI to centralize desktop delivery and reduce energy costs, but quickly realized a major challenge is how to keep costs down on the storage side if we are going to hand out customized virtual desktops to meet the requirements of students and faculty. We also have to package and deliver lots of applications for our professors and their labs, often on short notice, and we’ve had trouble virtualizing many of them.
What products did you consider?
We are implementing Pano Logic’s zero client platform for instant access to virtual desktops from anywhere, together with VMware vSphere as our back-end virtualization infrastructure. While VDI brokers offered some native capabilities, we really couldn’t find anyone other than Unidesk that would give us a complete management platform for persistent virtual desktops that maintain all user customizations, without requiring a major storage investment.
Why did you select this product?
Personalization was a big reason. We want our student population to have the desktop tools they need to succeed, without forcing them to purchase their own PCs and lots of expensive software. But we also want VDI to give them the flexible user experience of a traditional PC. Unidesk makes sure that user-installed apps and other customizations survive any changes we make to the desktops.
Management was another. We had to make it easier for me and my small staff so we’re not spending 80% of our time running around to different labs and PCs to see why patches aren’t being accepted or running right. And we needed a solution that would enable us to package apps that we’ve had trouble packaging with application virtualization and other tools. We had an instance where a professor needed IIS installed on lab machines, and there was no good automated way for us to do it. We had to go all the machines, make sure it was locked down and secured. With Unidesk, I can update the gold in 20 minutes with IIS, and push it out everywhere. Math-based modeling applications are another type that is very hard to package and push, and we were forced to do hand-installs, even after we went to VDI. With Unidesk, there’s no problem packaging them.
What tangible benefits has your organization gotten through the use of this product?
Time is money, and we’re going to save a lot of time. Before, I’d have to load up every PC with every application a student could possibly have.; Now, with Unidesk, I can dynamically build virtual desktops with the exact application layers just for chemistry students. Or choose one of my pre-built gold images containing a specific set of applications, assign it to a bunch of users with Unidesk, let them use Pano to access the desktops, and I’m done.
Agility is another benefit. Every semester, professors will have application requests and they’ll need them installed on a 100 PCs right away; In the past, that would have killed us. Now I have it done in a few hours, just let Unidesk update the gold image, assign the layers, and go.
And I mentioned the storage savings – being able to share layers across many desktops will bring down our storage costs quite a bit.
What advice would you offer others?
My job is ultimately about what I can do to make the UNT Dallas experience better for our student population, faculty, and staff. We also want to give the IT team some time to be proactive and deliver better service. Whether you work in education or in business, managing desktops are often in conflict with both of these objectives, and you usually end up sacrificing one for the other.
We thought we had found the answer in VDI. But it wasn’t until we added Unidesk as our management layer that we saw a way to balance out the equation. So if you’re looking at desktop virtualization, you need to think through the cost, user experience, and management issues, and know that VDI, by itself, isn’t going to solve them. That’s where Unidesk can help.