Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) allows companies to create a virtual image of a desktop synchronized with a virtual machine (VM) running in a remote data server, usually the cloud. The virtual desktop gives users access to the operating system of the VM, letting them run its apps and software and access its files.
VDI gives IT departments increased control over their infrastructure while reducing costs, increasing performance, customizing digital operations, and strengthening privacy and security.
Despite all its benefits, there are challenges to VDI, and proper planning, deploying, configuration, and operation are top priorities. This article will guide you through the steps to successfully deploy VDI, along with common mistakes to avoid and best practices to help ensure a smooth VDI rollout.
Step 1: Develop a VDI business plan
The overabundance of new technologies, a rich software vendor market, and the rapid pace of innovation push companies to deploy new solutions to keep ahead of the competition. However, VDI is not an experimental technology to embrace without a clear business plan.
Questions to answer before deploying VDI
Your company must answer several questions before getting started:
- Why do you need VDI technology?
- Specifically, what business problem and target will VDI solve and work for?
- Who will be using the technology?
These questions are vital because they will define what type of VDI your company needs — persistent VDI, where desktops can be personalized by users, or non-persistent VDI, where the desktop environments are temporary clones that cannot be modified.
Additionally, knowing the scope of your VDI project will define what hardware, software, storage and computing power, budget and operational demands you need.
Business benefits of VDI
There are several scenarios in which companies will benefit from VDI. One common example is businesses that need to provide secure access and have a medium to large number of remote workers.
Another common use case is that of organizations in industries like healthcare, public libraries, or education. These organizations need to grant access to specific digital resources for users through kiosk-hardware systems or their own BYOD devices.
Businesses deploy VDI to consolidate IT operations, eliminate silos, secure systems, and reduce hardware and software costs.
The VDI business plan must evaluate whether your company will take a project-by-project or department-by-department approach. It must also consider the number of users expected to access the system, calculate performance peaks, and accommodate for scaling up (or down) or out.
Other relevant technical factors, such as network and testing, which will be explained in the following steps, should also be part of the plan.
Step 2: Choose a VDI vendor
There are numerous VDI vendors in the market, and knowing which to choose may be tricky. The big names in the VDI industry are VMware Horizon, Microsoft Azure, Citrix Virtual Apps, Amazon Workspaces, and Oracle VirtualBox.
Each vendor offers VDI with a distinct approach. Still, they all share common features, such as hypervisors (the specialized software used to develop, deploy, and manage VMs), storage, processing, and hardware-software resources available in the cloud and for on-premises, security and compliance, and others.
Depending on its VDI business plan, each company must evaluate the solutions and features offered by the vendors and understand which is a better fit. Comparing other factors such as ease of use, support, and costs can also be clarifying.
Step 3: Acquire and set up hardware and software
The third step is one of the most technical challenges. To deploy a VDI, you must ensure you have all the necessary hardware and software. You will need to use a hypervisor to create a VM and later create a virtual desktop image of that VM.
All the necessary resources must be assigned to the VMs, including storage, processing power, memory, and more. These resources will depend on the nature of the VDI project and what type of VDI is being deployed. Note that persistent VDI requires more storage space and can be more expensive.
Your network must also be prepared to meet the demands of your traffic and users. You must carefully calculate peak usage and anticipate spiking demands as well as network configuration, security, and privacy.
VDI vendors can offer excellent guidance in these initial stages, including assigning the right resources to your VM. Even with help, though, your IT team needs the proper skills to get this step right.
Step 4: Develop a user-centered virtual desktop image fit for business
Whether you are creating a VDI to give your partners access to your system and streamline operations or whether a global talent workforce drives your company, the virtual desktop’s primary goal is to serve its users.
Make sure the virtual desktop image is designed accordingly. Consider users’ needs.
For example, if your users do not have advanced technical skills, the VDI must be user-friendly. On the other hand, if your users are, for example, mostly developers, you might want to give them the proper access levels to make changes, save files, and customize the environment and OS. In the end, the desktop you create needs to be user-centered.
You will also need to develop a clear user communication plan. The plan must include components for:
- Onboarding: Information for all users on what VDI is and how to use it.
- Feedback: Users must be able to provide feedback seamlessly.
- Support, resources, and guides: IT must offer support via appropriate channels, and resources must be available to guide users through routine processes.
Step 5: Security and compliance
Before even considering deploying a VDI, double-check your system, VDI, VM, cloud, on-premises, and network for security, privacy, and compliance weakness. Due to the nature of VDI, where numerous users connect to a system remotely using a wide range of devices, the security risks are high. Ensure you have all the proper cybersecurity security solutions up and running, updated, and properly configured.
Step 6: Do a pilot test and get feedback
The pilot test stage is not optional but a step companies must take before deployment. In this step, companies run a small-scale pilot test for a selected number of users under a brief, defined period time.
During this test, IT teams monitor how the VDI, VM, cloud, or on-premises infrastructure, network, and devices operate. It’s a perfect time to look for weaknesses, bugs, and problems. Make sure the test includes user feedback, as there are many issues that IT teams may miss but end users may experience firsthand.
Step 7: Deploy, monitor, and adjust
VDI deployment is not a once-and-done event. Before deployment, companies must set performance benchmarks and monitor the system to ensure they are being met. Also, consider that once the VDI is up and running, your company will undoubtedly discover new issues or require updates to the system for performance, security, or scaling up.
VDI is in a constant state of change. It must be monitored, users must be profiled and devices identified, authentication must be granted and properly configured, and VMs must be fine tuned or scaled. Monitoring and adjusting are required throughout the entire lifetime of the project.
Common mistakes when implementing VDI
With so much to keep track of, it’s no wonder that IT teams make mistakes when starting out, whether in resource allocation, scaling, testing and feedback, or security.
Here’s a quick checklist to make sure you hit all the most important points.
Did you properly allocate VDI resources?
It can be challenging to properly estimate what type of resources your VDI must have to deliver on the business targets. When creating a VM, it is common for organizations to miscalculate basic hardware requirements such as storage space or memory. Talk to experts and your vendor to make sure you are allocating all the resources you need to run your VDI.
Did you plan for growth or downsizing?
Making sure that your VDI and all its components are flexible and can be scaled up or down. The last thing a company needs is to come up short when demand is rising or not be able to cut down on costs when times are tight. Make sure that you have the maneuverability you need and plan for the future.
Did you involve everyone?
From users to partners to executives, everyone who will be using the VDI must be well-informed about the technology, how it works, and what it can do. Involving all parties from the start of the project is critical for its success. You do not want to build a system that users do not need, feel uncomfortable with, or find unsuited to their job.
Is your IT team fit for the job?
Deploying, operating, and adjusting VDI technology requires advanced technical skills. Your IT team may not be numerous, but they do need to have the proper experience and training to manage the technology as it will drive business-critical operations.
A good IT team will make a big difference, impacting costs, performance, visibility, decision-making, and ultimately your bottom line. Have your experts in place and ready for business.
Did you test and develop a communication plan?
The testing phase is essential to identify any potential problems and resolve them before deployment. Not testing a VDI and risking a large-scale release can set your project back, leading to a loss of time and money.
Additionally, many companies choose not to develop a communication plan or decide to develop it after deployment. This, too, can create delays and a lot of backlog for IT teams, who are left to deal with numerous support queries, thus overwhelming the system.
Are your cybersecurity solutions ready to go?
VDI vendors offer network security as well as VDI and VM cybersecurity. However, it is recommended to implement additional security solutions to create new layers that strengthen your posture.
Several components help to make VDI safe. These include endpoint detection and response (EDR), cyberthreat intelligence solutions, network security, user-focused cybersecurity awareness training, and more. Make sure your system is private, secure, and ready to manage cyberattacks.
VDI best practices and tips to consider
Aside from the basic steps and the common mistakes, there are some lesser-known pro tips to increase the odds of a smooth, successful VDI deployment. Here’s a list of some VDI best practices to help get you started.
Think big but take small wins
Always have your complete VDI business plan in mind when adopting the technology, but start small and scale up as needed. You can start with one department or even a small project — even if you plan to later implement VDI company-wide. By starting small you can take small wins, and better mitigate risks. The small wins will help build momentum as you move forward.
Use performance monitoring tools
The way to make sure you have the right resources, hardware, software, VMs, and network infrastructure is to use performance monitoring tools. With these solutions, you can visualize your virtual desktop consumption and ensure you are meeting overall demands. You can also evaluate users’ requirements, monitor server performance, and get data on workloads, resource shortages, peak loads, and more.
Be flexible and open to changes
VDI infrastructures should not be set in stone. They must be flexible and upgraded from time to time. Continually monitor your infrastructure, get user feedback, and be ready to downsize or grow. Additionally, stay alert for cybersecurity threats or new laws that may require you to make adjustments.
While the importance of user-centered VDI technology has already been explained, it’s never a bad idea to highlight it. Remember, VDI will only benefit a company if it benefits its users.
Budget and software consolidation
One of the most impactful benefits of VDI is its ability to reduce costs and simplify operations. Make sure that what you are spending on VDI aligns with your business plan and that cost reductions are being met as expected. If not, make adjustments — either to your budget, calculations, or technology — as necessary.
Additionally, verify that your technologies and solutions are not overlapping. Consolidating software is how companies keep budgets in check, avoid risks, and prevent user confusion.
Grant the right access
Not every user needs the same access to a system, and authentication security is crucial to prevent threats in VDI. Make sure you are giving your users the access they should have and that they are being properly authenticated.
Stick to your plan
Always refer to your business plan, goals, targets, and benchmarks. Even if the plan needs to change, it should provide a blueprint and guide for VDI pre- and post-deployment.
Bottom line: Getting started with VDI implementation at your organization
VDI is the technology that hundreds of thousands of companies worldwide use to run their businesses, interact with partners, and give employees of all levels access to digital resources.
From developing a business plan to choosing the right vendor and creating and managing VMs, networks, and user-centered virtual desktops, this guide reveals a simple seven-step program to deploy VDI successfully.
Additionally, through common mistakes, this report addresses the technology’s main technical and strategic challenges. Keeping best practices in mind, any business, no matter the size or complexity of its operations, can leverage VDI, modernize, accelerate, and be on the cutting edge of virtual desktop technology.
Here are the best virtualization companies to partner with in your VDI deployment — and some tips on how to choose between them.