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Inside a successful VMware View setup: VDI pros and cons

Don Peterson oversaw his company's VMware View setup and manages the VDI environment. Here's how he did it and what he learned in the process.

The debate over virtual desktops usually pits streamlined IT management against users' performance concerns. What better way to suss out if VDI is right for your organization than learning how one IT manager performed VMware View setup, rollout and management for his corporation?

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At a large housewares manufacturing company, Don Peterson, enterprise server and support manager, oversees servers and storage -- as well as help desk staff -- for the IT infrastructure. He uses a bevy of VMware products, including vSphere 5.0 and 5.1, ESXi 5.0 and 5.1, Site Recovery Manager (SRM) 5.1, and View 5.1. Peterson has held this role for 14 years; about three years ago, he began testing out a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), looking for a better way to manage and upgrade user desktops.

Initially, the IT department investigated VDI to manage users at remote sites. However, its WAN could not handle virtual desktop traffic. Instead, the company deployed VMware View for the corporate office. After starting with a five-person VDI pilot program and a 12-seat test lab, there are now 65 virtual desktop users, with two more departments scheduled to migrate soon.

Have you seen any advantages with virtual desktops over the old, physical desktop system?

Don Peterson: VMware View 5.1's features give us a real advantage when installing or upgrading software. We can quickly deploy a new application or service pack to any number of desktops with little effort. Before VDI, we would do this on each individual desktop. Now, we just update our master image and recompose everyone's virtual desktop after hours.

We also can repurpose older PCs as thin clients, which really extends the useful life of a PC. We haven't had to buy a new PC in more than two years.

Did you run into any bumps or roadblocks setting up VDI? How about in the day-to-day operation with View?

Peterson: We had some performance issues initially, and there was some confusion over the best way to manage images and how many master images to have. We did the View implementation work ourselves, which meant some trial and error along the way.

We haven't had to buy a new PC in more than two years.

We also struggled with some models of locally attached printers that would not pass through correctly from the thin client to the virtual desktop. The printer may be to blame, not the VMware View software, but it gave us a lot of trouble.

Users also occasionally complain about performance in the course of day-to-day operations. VMware View 5.1 doesn't offer real performance monitoring tools to help pinpoint a slowdown. There are software packages that help with this, but they can be very expensive.

Are there any advantages/disadvantages of virtual desktops that you were not expecting?

Peterson: One disadvantage that we did not realize initially was that there is no real disaster recovery (DR) option in VMware View 5.1's features. VMware says that SRM will eventually support DR and that there are some ways to "make it work." Still, this is a concern related to VMware View-based VDI.

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