Where is the market for client devices going – and what does it mean to corporate strategy? These are questions that Techaisle and its clients – and the industry as a whole – has been wrestling with ever since the decline of the traditional PC opened the door for alternative client technologies.
In many cases, users now combine mobile and fixed devices, and with this multi-device approach, consistency and security become even more important than they were in the laptop era. Many organizations are responding to a need to securely manage and distribute user data and applications by investigating virtual desktop (VDI) technologies enabling delivering of “desktop as a service,” or DaaS. With VDI/DaaS, businesses deploy client virtualization technologies from suppliers like Citrix and VMware to ensure that users have anywhere/any time/any device access to current information, their applications and their desktops. These technologies allow for better data security and auditability, and often offer the additional benefits of reduced CAPEX and OPEX.
The allure of VDI and DaaS is clear – but the technology itself and the path to realizing its benefits can still seem somewhat mysterious to many small and mid-sized businesses. To understand implementation challenges and lessons learned, Techaisle conducted depth interviews with small and mid-market businesses (from 50 employees to 999 employees) that are currently using VDI and/or DaaS solutions. Based on a random sampling these businesses belonged to financial services, professional services, manufacturing, construction, utilities, retail and private education segments. These early adopter SMBs have rolled out VDI and/or DaaS solutions within their organizations. The number of users using VDI and/or DaaS within the businesses interviewed ranged from a low of 30 employees for a small business to a high of 600 employees within a mid-market business.
Techaisle’s quantitative VDI/DaaS research shows that the key user objectives in adopting either on-premise or hosted VDI/DaaS solutions revolved around mobility, application availability from anywhere and on any device, disaster recovery, centralized management and administration of end-point devices at the same time reducing costs. Based on users’ real-world experiences and feedback, Techaisle has compiled a list of seven key lessons for success for small and mid-market businesses planning to adopt VDI/DaaS solutions.
1. Prepare a roadmap of the solution and a blueprint of implementation process
Before starting the implementation process and before even considering a pilot, current VDI/DaaS users advise potential users to create a roadmap of the solution and a blueprint of implementation process. The roadmap and blueprints should include solution and brand selection criteria, a list of solution components and their objectives, changes required (if any) to the core infrastructure to support the solution, costs involved and budgets for cost overruns, security vulnerabilities, phase-in of users and their training process and timeframe for enhancements post implementation.
2. Hire external consultants - people who have experience
It is almost impossible to develop a roadmap and blueprint without the guidance and close involvement of experts. All SMBs that we interviewed had contracted with external consultants varying in size from a group of 4-5 to a maximum of 40-50 people. In each case, consultants were preferred over resellers and service providers due to their focused deep expertise and track record. However, each of the current users of VDI/DaaS had decided on either Citrix or VMware solution prior to engaging with consultants with corresponding expertise.
“We approached our known consultant which is a small company formed by 6 to 7 people and have expertise in VMware solution. They are highly technical professionals providing free infrastructure and free connectivity support and covering infrastructure maintenance and end user connectivity”.
“We preferred going with Consultants as they had solution specific expertise. They gave optimal options taking into consideration both cost and technology sound solution. They even offered technical assistance even after post implementation and maintenance for one year. They are a small company with VMware expertise formed by a core group of people”.
“We approached consultants, a small group of people, with deep Citrix expertise, because they had relevant qualifications and certification”.
3. Ensure that the solution supports legacy software
Not all SMBs are using all modern applications; many mid-market businesses have core legacy applications and/or applications that are essential to a specific department and workgroup. Current SMB users of VDI/DaaS advise that the blueprint prepared should include a list of applications currently being used within the organization and to systematically test to ensure that they will continue to be supported in the new DaaS environment.
The VDI/DaaS SMB users also advise that businesses should also revisit the current licensing arrangement they have for some of their applications and ensure that in a virtualized environment those licenses are valid and applicable.
“We learned during the implementation phase that not every application is supported by VDI or DaaS solution. It is difficult to understand and analyze the amount of storage used by different departments”.
“The main concern was with software licensing concerns. Few of our application’ licenses restricted the use of software on systems accessed by terminal servers. There were issues coming up initially that affected our end users as these applications were not accessible on multiple virtual desktops”.
“The main concerns were the length of the project, the cost of the project and back end integration. Backend integration was a major concern as we have legacy application running on the system”.
4. Get the business users ready
Business users do not like changes that affect their interfaces – it takes time to build new usage habits, and this can (and generally does) have a short-term impact on productivity. Although a VDI/DaaS roll-out is often used to deliver better mobile systems to business users – generally, a well-received benefit – it is essential to prepare the business users with new interfaces, log-ins, support mechanism, and training on the use of thin clients. This will require IT to manage a number of VDI/DaaS-specific issues, including application downloads to user devices, management of persistent or non-persistent desktop experiences, and tactics to address latency if/where it impacts performance.
“A challenge we faced post implementation was to manage new rounds of user trainings. The new solution meant introduction of a different system to the users and one where users had to undergo a series of trainings to become comfortable with it”.
“The main challenge that we faced was user training and that was a really big concern for us”.
“We had to give training to users in about two weeks which was taken out of their operational hours and once the service was put in place the learning was steep, the users were not very productive during that time”.
“Most of the issues were to do with the users who were unable to come to terms with the changes and the content that could access easily”.
5. Conduct a pilot
Conducting a pilot helps in fine tuning the roadmap and blueprint for implementation.
“During the pilot test, we observed a need to modify our terminal server as they were not responding to the end users request. Then we decided and made changes in terminal server by making a cluster of terminal servers so that similar end users request would be sent to desired terminal server, to cut down network traffic congestion”.
“At the initial stage we started facing issues which were basically related with bandwidth or poor network response. We decided to increase our bandwidth for offering end-users customizable experience similar to that of a physical desktop”.
“In the pilot stage some issues popped out. First of all, the expected cost for the pilot stage rose considerably. Also we got a mixed reaction from the team using it as some said they were able to fully utilize the resources, whereas when we tested it over other networks like WLAN, the data was not accessible”.
6. Create a detailed budget, be prepared for cost overruns
The current users of VDI/DaaS suggest that potential adopters should budget 25 percent for software, 20 percent for services, 20 percent for networking and one-third for hardware. The percentages vary for small businesses where the budget allocation for hardware varies between 10-15 percent and the proportional cost of software rises to 30-35 percent. Current users advise businesses that have legacy applications to allocate higher budgets for hardware and services, as high as 45 percent and 35 percent respectively.
As many as 40 percent of SMBs indicate that cost overruns of 10-20 percent is a given.
“There was additional expenditure required. The testing phase was difficult as we had to change our server and switches”.
“In testing phase we found out that the users had to get software assurance which delayed the project, delayed purchase of licenses and forced additional expenditure”.
7. Upgrade server and network infrastructure
The most common and almost universal changes to the IT infrastructure to prepare for VDI/DaaS usage are installation or upgrades of blade servers, upgrading cabling to fiber optics cable thus enabling substantially higher data bandwidth, replacement of switches for routing higher throughputs, installation of thin clients and in some cases increasing storage.
Current users generally opted for specific server and thin client brands based on either recommendation from their consultants or because of existing relationships. Brands most often used were IBM, HP and Dell. Most SMBs preferred to use Blade Servers.
“We upgraded cabling by using fiber optics cable which boosted our bandwidth and smooth flow of data from the data center to the end users. We used fiber optics as it was a cost effective solution for us rather than going on with existing metal cabling which had an impact on bandwidth”.
“Networking and replacement of cabling was one issue as it did not work with the solution initially, the cabling between the server switches and office switches and for this we looked for fiber cabling”.
The need for VDI/DaaS as a mobility enabling technology is clear, and its corresponding benefits for user experience and data management are compelling. However, the path to VDI/DaaS can be tricky to navigate. By capitalizing on the advice provided by current users, SMBs interested in adopting VDI/DaaS can set realistic objectives and expectations, and can manage confidently towards effective deployment.