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Get into the trenches for optimal Horizon View deployment

Moving to a virtual desktop infrastructure platform means systems administrators should first heed what ails the end users before plunging ahead with what works best for the IT personnel.

If you're contemplating a Horizon View deployment, you shouldn't proceed without a proper assessment first. Hire consultants to assess your environment, bring in an experienced contractor or just do it yourself, but get out there and understand what your users are trying to accomplish. They're not just a never-ending queue of problem tickets.

Why do an assessment?

If you're going to replace the users' desktops or laptops with a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), the experience better be as good -- or better -- than what they have now. IT wants to centralize, make systems secure and reduce complexity, but there are times IT should think like business people, too.

How can VDI help your business? What causes friction in the daily working lives of the departments that make up your organization? Do people have to open and close applications a lot, losing time to progress bars? This is called swivel. It's frustrating. It wastes time. It costs money.

How much time is wasted on logins? I've witnessed companies with thousands of man-hours of wasted productivity every year because of broken name resolution or badly written login scripts.

A poorly managed Active Directory Group Policy is even worse. Too many policies -- or contradictory policies -- or too many organizational units used -- such as folders by overly fussy systems engineers -- slows everyone down, both on servers and on desktops.

The problem is that most end-users and their managers adapt. They learn that parts of the system -- parts of what IT provides -- don't make sense. Or are slow. Or they're just plain broken. The worst part? A lot of the time, IT has no idea. I can't tell you how many times I've interviewed a department and found out 30 minutes a day is being sucked out of everyone's lives because no one thought to complain to IT about something. The users just adapted, rolled their eyes and moved on. New hires get the tribal knowledge, "Yep, click that widget, and go get some coffee, because it's going to be a while." Even if there's a local desktop tech or power user, odds are they're blaming the remote and uncaring corporate IT department.

A good assessment will get your IT department back out there to see what your users go through every day. Yes, you need to find out about things like IOPS and RAM used by desktop types, and applications that can be virtualized. You need to get a handle on the amorphous blob that is user data and settings. Most of all, though, you need a consistent method as you visit various departments.

Use software to get benchmarks

First, you need a suite to crunch the numbers on your desktops. You can do this by hand -- not good -- with your existing desktop management platform -- better -- or a dedicated tool -- best. The two industry leading platforms I've used are Stratusphere FIT from Liquidware Labs and Lakeside Software's SysTrack.

Liquidware Labs and Lakeside have their strong points and weak points, but both do a great job at the fundamental task. You can't go wrong with either one. They allow you to pick a representative subsection of your desktop fleet and get a statistical analysis over a period. Make sure you get a good sampling size, say 10%-20% of each major department or user community you're assessing. Include end-of-month billing cycles or other special times, like peaks around holidays for retail sales.

Both platforms will also help you identify what software can be virtualized, entry points for applications, and other helpful details.

Identify user communities

A user community is a fancy way of saying groups of users that are similar. They may have the same type of job -- secretaries, for example -- or they have similar application sets. You'll be surprised where correlations spring up.

Ask for an organizational chart from HR. Half the time you can't get it. When you do get it, it's usually wrong. Take the outline of what the organizational structure looks like on paper, correlate it to organizational units and then the fun part starts. A project sponsor, usually a C-level, will send an e-mail out to department heads saying an assessment for virtual desktops is beginning. People will actually fight over who gets to be in charge of the VDI project for their team. Get a project manager to help you start scheduling meetings. You're going to need a good one.

Interview the stakeholders

You'll be surprised how accommodating most people will be once they realize you're there to help. Make it clear you're there to listen and take notes. Have a questionnaire created and walk though it with them. Have example answers for them. Many of the questions are obvious, but their tenor is vital. Make it clear you're there to help them accomplish their mission, and that you respect the processes they have in place.

Introduce the project and have a short explanation of Horizon View ready. It doesn't hurt to show Windows on an iPad and a Mac.

A basic questionnaire should have:

  • What does your business unit do? (It must be stressed how important it is to ask this and really listen.)
  •  Please introduce me to your team. Who are your best technical people? Do they have any special concerns? (Gifted amateurs or independent operators are like gold. Treat them with respect -- they know where the bodies are buried.)
  • What are your core locations? Any challenges between sites?
  • How many users per site?
  • Do you have remote users now? Is remote access desirable?
  • What are your hours of operation? Do you have shift workers?
  • What type of OS and devices are in use?
  • What are your core applications? Any challenges? (Get ready to start taking a lot of notes. The applications for vertical industries are the bane of everyone's existence, not just your industry!)

You can guess most of the rest of the questions you need to ask, but there are a few you absolutely can't forget:

  • Do you have any service-level agreements (SLAs)? Not IT SLAs. Does the business have SLAs? Do they know how expensive five 9s of uptime is? Come prepared to explain the implications of moving everything into a data center)
  • Licensing: What have you bought that IT doesn't know about?
    Are there are special needs around font size and resolution for vision-impaired individuals? (Always, but there may be a few people with braille readers or other devices.)
  • What challenges is your team facing that you would like to address during this transition?

On that last point, obviously a VDI project isn't going to fix the world. A lot of things can be set right, though. I once saw a green policy implemented that mandated the shutdown of every PC in the company at night. The average employee's time to productivity in the morning after powering on their PC and logging in was 20 minutes. For a large company, that kind of time adds up fast. Think about what a zero client could do in that situation.

Put your design to the test

Take the results of your assessment and create detailed use cases. Use the stakeholders and their designated helpers for a proof of concept. Look at what pieces of the Horizon Suite are needed for your use cases. Look at what third-party software you might need; persona management is sure to come up.

Define success criteria. Once you know the conditions for victory, and you have stakeholder buy-in, you create a real architectural design based on the numbers from the assessment. Then you buy hardware. All too often VDI projects fail because XYZ vendor is chosen after a number of free lunches and then a design is created. Don't fall into that trap.

Any number of consultants, bloggers and writers are out there to help, or start studying theVCAP-DTD (VMware Certified Advanced Professional Desktop Design) blueprint to get a good framework to do it yourself. Whichever way you go, get a good grasp on the assessment software that's going to be used, and you can't go wrong.

Next Steps

Brush up on your basic knowledge of VMware Horizon View.

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What are some important steps to consider with a Horizon View deployment?
The most crucial in deploying Horizon View is analyzing end-user processes. Nobody appreciates using applications with broken links or those limiting user's experience. In most cases, IT guys ignore conducting analysis of Horizon View during deployment. Before long, users are forced to adapt to the carelessness of IT pros, which could be catastrophic in future. This, along with identifying your audience and running tests go a long way towards the effective deployment of Horizon View.