Virtualizing desktops in your enterprise

perspective Citrix Systems executive offers a step-by-step guide for enterprises to successfully prepare for, and implement, desktop virtualization.
Written by Brian Higgins, Contributor

perspective Desktop virtualization is an economically viable way of delivering Windows desktops and applications to mainstream office workers anywhere without compromising security.

It results in greater productivity, higher availability, improved performance, better manageability and extreme workforce mobility.

Enterprises around the world are waking up to this and many are early adopters of such technology are causing the industry to currently grow at 28 percent per annum.

But how do you prepare an enterprise for such a change? This final instalment in a three-part series on virtualization explains how businesses can deploy desktop virtualization.

Essentially, there are three key phases to implementing desktop virtualization: building a business case, planning and implementing small-scale "tests" and finally rolling out the adoption of the product on a larger scale across the enterprise.

Everyone's approach to implementing desktop virtualization will differ depending on the type and scale of the business, as well as on users needs. The approaches that usually demonstrate the best results are where the execution has been phased in gradually across departments--creating a strong foundation by building skills and support through smaller implementations, before rolling out the solution to the wider enterprise.

Step One: Building a business case
Before deploying such a wide-ranging technological change, it is important to first develop a comprehensive plan, including the education of employees and testing of the chosen solution in order to build an effective business case.

The first step is to analyze and quantify the strategic value that desktop virtualization will bring to IT. By essentially removing the traditional PC from the equation, IT can radically improve desktop security and manageability which can reduce overall desktop total cost of ownership--by as much as 40 percent.

The Gartner Group estimates that it costs as much as US$5,867 per year to maintain a PC, resulting in over US$12,000 to procure, maintain and retire a desktop over its limited lifetime spanning about two to three years. This implies as much as US$2,300 per year of savings per user per year over traditional PCs.

This information can be used to build a business case and generate support for the adoption of desktop virtualization.

Step Two: Comprehensive planning and targeted trials
In order to prove your case, it is a good idea to set up some smaller trials to demonstrate returns on investment (ROI), grow IT skills and gain support from different areas of the enterprise.

Work with key business managers to find areas that will gain specific, fast and significant benefits from a production pilot. Identify key users such as remote or contract workers, departments or users working with particularly sensitive data or areas where the highest possible desktop availability is vital to business performance.

The following key areas should be assessed for the opportunity for significant productivity improvements and cost savings using desktop virtualization:

  • User administration and authentication
  • Client device management
  • Desktop build process
  • Upgrade cycle
  • Patch management
  • Desktop refresh cycle
  • Application delivery
  • Desktop security process
  • Systems monitoring and management
  • Systems testing processes
  • Desktop support
    • Service commitments
    • Support tiers
    • Incident tracking
    • Escalation process
    • Troubleshooting process
  • Disaster recovery
    • Business impact
    • Data centers
    • Disaster recovery site
    • Business continuity planning

After this evaluation, install desktop virtualization for a limited number of identified departments or key users within those departments to establish support and build a proven case for ROI. This will also serve to strengthen the case for large-scale implementation.

Step Three: Broad-scale adoption
Once the business case has been proved in by the initial pilot, it is time for broad-scale rollout of desktop virtualization.

In order to complete a successful roll out, Citrix recommends the "Desktop Delivery" approach, adaptable for a wide range of business and user requirements.

Desktop delivery decouples desktop applications, operating systems, user settings and data from the underlying PC infrastructure and creates a single operating system image separated from application virtualization and user settings on servers back in the datacenter. The operating system image, user settings, and applications are then reassembled to user specifications and quickly delivered on demand over the network to any computing device.

With desktop delivery, the focus shifts away from siloed management of individual PCs and the endless cycle of patches, updates and security fixes. Instead, attention turns toward establishing a rich, yet economical, centralized repository of desktop component images that are mixed and matched to meet individualized user profiles while also being much easier for IT to manage and control.

The following best practices will enable the best rollout of desktop virtualization using the desktop delivery approach:
1.Segment your user base

  • Bridge the gap between users and their desktops: Desktop delivery breaks down the desktop into its elemental components to make it easy to address the unique needs of today's diverse workforce. The first step is to identify and segment your user base in order to serve the individual needs of each worker to determine the optimal method of delivering the desktop and applications.
  • Standardize for task workers: Task workers can be loosely defined as those workers who require only standardized desktops and perform fairly repetitive, structured tasks on a small number of applications with uniform user settings. Hospital staff nurses and call center personnel are typical examples.
  • Individualize for office workers: Office workers require personalized desktops with diverse applications and user settings suited to their unique jobs. While highly individualized, there's a certain amount of segmentation by department, function and/or job that can, and should, take place to optimize virtualization across the organization.
  • Fitting desktops to user needs: Virtualized desktops will generally match the requirements of office workers, while shared desktops or simply application virtualization will suit task workers who do not require personalization.

2. Separate operating system, applications and personalization settings
    Virtualization operates by decoupling the operating system from the hardware. The same notion can also be used to decouple the operating system from user personalization, applications and data. In this way, desktops can be "dynamically assembled" which greatly simplifies image and application management. In detail, this approach implies:
    • Taking the core operating system and separate it from applications and user preferences. By doing so, we achieve a ubiquitous, easily managed operating system image that can be used as a base image for all users.
    • Providing that single operating system image via desktop virtualization.
    • On delivery of the core operating system to the user, dynamic application of user personalization to the image.
    • Application delivery to users only as needed and in the most appropriate way as isolated, de-coupled, elements on a separate application virtualization platform.

    3. Deliver a pristine, high performance desktop
    • By maintaining a separate operating system image, personalization, and application infrastructure, you can ensure that users are presented with a pristine desktop each time they log on.
    • End users are used to having an experience supported by local computing resources. Ensure even better user experience with desktop virtualization:
      • Virtual desktops can be configured to be significantly faster to startup and provide users with fast, reliable access to virtual desktops in 10 seconds or less.
      • Employ an enhanced delivery protocol for best raw graphics and keyboard/mouse performance.
  • Simplifying branch office and work-from-home desktops: Ensure that branch office and work at home employees can access the full corporate desktop using any endpoint available to them. Updates and new applications should be available to every corporate employee immediately, wherever they may be.
  • Proactive support: Use industry leading tools to monitor performance, ensure compliance with minimum service levels and quickly diagnose and resolve user issues.

Brian Higgins is Pacific channels director for Citrix Systems, and is responsible for driving the company's channel strategy and partner engagement for the region. This is the final piece in a three-part series on virtualization.

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