Virtual Desktop Infrastructure: Benefits, Challenges, and Components

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

What are some of the benefits, challenges, and components involved in setting up a basic Virtual Desktop Infrastructure for an organization?

With the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), there are two main approaches which are called persistent and non-persistent. When talking about a persistent VDI the user has their own desktop image. The image can be customized and saved for use in the future. This is similar to a regular desktop. The non-persistent VDI has a pool of desktops that the users can access when they need to access them, however with the nonpersistent VDI, the desktops revert back to their original state every time the user logs out (Chelsie, 2018).

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 Depending on the type of VDI deployed, determines the benefits of VDI. One of the benefits of virtual desktop infrastructure is being able to access the infrastructure remotely. With VDI it allows you to be able to access your virtual machine which is essentially your desktop from anywhere, no matter the time of day. With VDI data loss seems to be a no brainer, because regardless of whether you lost the device that you were using to work, you have not lost your data, and can access the data from another device. Provisioning the desktop is easy because you can mirror a desktop image and you can provision your virtual machine instantaneously. When you are using a third party cloud providers data center, which would be in a high performance data center, you get all the bells and whistle that come with the data center so to speak, such as advanced security, high-end infrastructure, disaster recovery plan etc. And by using a cloud provider, is where the cost reduction comes into play, because you do not have hardware cost. The hardware in your office doesn’t matter.

Other benefits are; organizations may be able to extend the lifespan of computers that are considered obsolete by repurposing them as VDI clients. Then when the organization needs to buy new computers, they can buy less expensive machines. With the nonpersistent VDI, it is helpful when talking about management. There are less master images to maintain and secure, which makes the infrastructure easier to manage. Security is a benefit due to the fact that if a laptop was stolen, the thief wouldn’t be able to take the data, because it isn’t stored on the machine. The ability to support remote and mobile users more easily is also a plus. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure can assist with protecting an organizations data from loss, damage and or improper disclosure as well as storing the data in a centralized location. The cost reduction comes in by managing the desktop configuration and applications centrally.

However some of the disadvantages of VDI is the cost savings due to infrastructure expenses. When dealing with a persistent VDI, you have to look at the operating system, applications, data and settings of every users that is required to be stored in the data center. The capacity needs and the cost to meet the requirements may not be cost effective. The users rely on internet connectivity and if connectivity is weak, it could hinder desktop performance. This seems to be an issue with systems that have graphic intensive applications or high processing demands of software. Software licenses and support could become complicated. With the nonpersistent VDI licenses and support agreements could become an issue because you can’t share software among multiple devices and or users (Chelsie, 2018).

VDI Components for Windows

For the virtual desktop infrastructure from a windows perspective for components of course you are going to have the operating system, applications and user data. Some of the key components are the Hyper-V, windows server 2008 R2, the remote desktop protocol, and application virtualization. You also need to look at other components such as active directory, storage, failover clusters, folder redirection, and roaming users’ profiles.

For virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) components, let’s dig a little deeper into virtualization. With virtualization, you have a technology that basically takes the architecture of the system and divides it into several layers. Before virtualization came along if your hard drive on your computer crashed, it just crashed. You took a gamble at whether or not you 100 % lost your data or if the data could potentially be restored. With virtualization you have a software called Hypervisor. When you have a server that has hypervisor installed on it, it allows you to be able to install multiple operating systems. So the question is what does hypervisor do? Hypervisor basically separates the operating system from the hardware and creates an environment virtually where you can have more than one virtual machine. Each machine can have a specific operating system, specific applications and whatever customized configuration that may be required for this specific virtual machine. Each virtual machine basically has its own desktop and it can be provisioned based on the user who is going to be logging in and using that machine. Because Hypervisor has a high availability function, you are able to connect more than one server as well. Should your physical machine fail, your virtual machine is automatically moved to another server instantly.

Another component of the VDI is called a connection broker. The connection broker is software based which allows you to connect the user to the desktop instance. It also authenticates the users before they are able to access their desktop virtually. This software is a tracker which will tell you if a desktop is active or inactive. When the user connects to their virtual machine, it is then known to be in an idle mode, whereas once it disconnects, then the status for that virtual machine is marked to inactive.

With VDI you have the ability to do desktop pools; what this means it that say for instance you have an accounting department with different functionalities and an IT department with different functionalities, you can have a group of desktops that are configured specifically for their department. The application virtualization piece of the VDI is used to create the image for the virtual machine and duplicate it across all of the machines that are in that desktop pool. This makes the deployment of application easier and hassle free.

I know I have probably spoke about challenges and disadvantages of VDI earlier in the paper and I might have already touched on some of the points that I am going to speak of, but there are some points that I do not think I touched on at all. Here are a few considerations that organizations should look at before making a decision to go VDI. There seems to be a controversy as to whether or not cost savings was even beneficial with VDI. It seem that the cost shifts, which makes it seem like it is a cost savings. Challenge number 1 says, money can be saved with VDI by streamlining the requirements for hardware as well as centralized management. You also have to take into consideration a single point of failure and a high fault tolerant back end infrastructure. Other cost the organization should consider is whether or not new hardware has to be purchased, can employees bring their own devices to work and use them? , Is a new operating system needed, what is the workload of VDI and what resources are needed, as well as will the user be required to take training? Another challenge to take into consideration is how well the system is going to perform and if there are going to be any performance issues. Organizations need to be able to act quickly should services, increased throughput and or applications might be needed. If the workload is unpredictable, it could potentially cause performance issues. One of the potential problems that could cause the workload to be unpredictable is the storage. Over provisioning can be expensive; organizations need to look for a way to overcome the potential storage issue. Some are overcoming the storage issue by combining different technologies in different ways, such as combining a storage area networking, software defined storage, flash, SSD, cache etc. In order to optimize the performance of VDI, organizations need to take a look at their current network infrastructure as well as their existing storage to make a decision on what changes might need to be made. The organization needs to look at image sprawling, which allows standardized images to be developed for specific roles. With fewer images, fewer resources will be required, and the easier it is manage. To determine the number of images required the information technology department will have to work with the appropriate personnel to determine what images to keep and what images to take down and decommission.

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With change management in the VDI environment, users should be notified and properly trained on the change management process. If there are any upcoming implementations of VDI the organization needs to have some type of method or process in place to properly the users whom could potentially be affected by the implementation. The change depending on whether it is a major or minor change should be approved by the proper personnel. As mentioned earlier, users should be properly trained but also the organization may want to put together a question and answer session. Last but not least; the topic of security. Is VDI secure or not secure that is the question? It has been said that data stored in a data center compared to data with endpoint devices is more secure. However, when you have a workforce working remotely and accessing the data remotely, this could potentially open up vulnerabilities in the system and there could be insecure connections. There should be policies, procedures, best practices etc., put in place to address patching, malware scans and the frequency of the scans, data loss prevention and anti-spam systems etc. Proper training should be put in place in regards to properly securing the network and the do’s and don’ts when connecting from a public place and ensuring the password being used is strong and meet the proper requirements. If organizations understand the challenges that come with VDI and can properly address them should not only see the VDI more secure, but should also see where time and money can be saved (Miller, 2017).

Implementing a windows based virtual desktop infrastructure can be challenging due to that the fact that you have to coordinate two windows server roles, which are the Hyper-V and the Remote Desktop Server. The remote desktop server is a key component of the virtual desktop infrastructure. One of the reasons why organizations are turning to the virtual desktop infrastructure is because not all of their applications can operate with the Remote Desktop Server (Cherry, 2010).

Before deciding on whether or not VDI would be a good fit for your organization, there are some things that you need to look at. You need to determine when to use the VDI and how you are going to use the VDI. There are different areas that must be evaluated. One of the key things that needs to be evaluated is which user can use VDI and which users may need to have a physical desktop. You need to take a look at desktop support requirements and see if there is you are going to need more on-site administrator and maintenance than you already have and what the associated cost would be.

While the user’s location doesn’t require as much support, the actual VDI does require a lot of administrators, along with support. Compatibility of the applications needs to be evaluated. Evaluate how much resource utilization you are going to need as well as improved desktop access for remote workers. Also before jumping right into a virtual desktop infrastructure, the organization should also evaluate the RDS session virtualization. Then you would want to compare the two, weigh out your options, look at your resources to include money and decide which way would be better for the organization to go to.

The type of client that the organization is using or planning to use needs to be also evaluated. If the organization chooses to use a distributed computer, instead of a thin client, than you still have to update and patch each individual computer which I think would defeat the purpose of VDI in the first place. You also need to ensure that your server hardware is high end. The cost for implementing virtual desktop infrastructure in regards to desktop hardware, maintenance and upgrade costs may be lower, however the total ownership cost would not be. If the organization employs applications where the data must be backed up and secure to keep the data from inadvertently getting destroyed or seen, critical applications that do not run on a current operating system which are legacy applications or you have requirements that are temporary, for example remote workers, temporary workers and or contractors, then VDI may be a good fit for you (Jones, 2019).

There seems to be a lot of controversy about whether or not VDI is a good idea or a bad idea. Due to VDI being difficult to implement, along with components that are expensive and some other concerns, some of the challenges with not implementing VDI or let’s just say more like some risks could that organizations could potentially see is that the organization may or may not save time or money, virtual desktops can be more costly than a traditional desktop. The VDI desktop storage can convert over into expensive SAN storage based on what storage capacity the organization may need as well as the layers for VDI are still too complex and there are too many of them (Acharya, 2019).

However, there seems to be hype about Hyperconvergence which is a combination of storage, networking and compute in a single system. (Bednarz, 2019). This type of infrastructure takes all of the data center’s necessary components and combines them all together and puts them into pre-packaged units which are managed and control by one piece of software (Thorpe, 2018). With Hyperconvergence, there is a low cost for both total ownership as well as low cost to implement. You basically pay for what you need. This system allows the organization to have a smaller efficient IT staff. A fundamental part of being able to managing hyperconvergence is automation, therefore the organization has greater gains. The procurement and support is more simplified, along with increased data protection and improved performance (Hyperconvergenced, 2018). The benefits that an organization would see from Hyperconvergence are workload consolidation, flexibility and scale, data protection, automated infrastructure as mentioned earlier along with greater efficiency (Thorpe, 2018).


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