Seven Considerations in Using VDI for a Resilient Remote Workforce
By Kevin Leahy, Director of Data Center Practice at Aspire Technology Partners
Perhaps the most dramatic change that many of us have needed to adjust to during the pandemic is working remotely. While some of us have had the opportunity to work remotely as a convenience, or when we’ve gone off to be head’s down and focused on a project, there were other times when “being remote” meant going to a different office, conference, or offsite to a client meeting.
Over the last few months, the idea of working while remote has taken hold for all its benefits. Despite its shortcomings, many love it. Others miss the personal interaction you get when everyone is in the office together. Most experience a little of both feelings. Working and schooling out of the home did our ancestors well but these are different times. How is your organization adjusting and enhancing the remote experience and using it to your advantage?
VDI – Fostering the Resilient Remote Workforce
Addressing this often requires a combination of many technologies, including collaboration and video, but for many organizations the first step is virtual desktops (VDI). Many organizations already use some form of VDI but have not fully embraced it. VDI may be deployed for a certain user group, in many cases task workers or customer support and help desk workers. However, rarely do we see 100 percent implementations for all workers across all user types. This, despite every year of the past decade being dubbed “The Year of VDI.” Today, however, the phrase, “We are in on VDI” or “VDI across the board,” has become a corporate rallying cry. In addition to deploying VDI, ensuring resilience of your VDI solution is now more critical than ever, and topping the Business Impact Assessment (BIA) of critical applications that must be recovered first. After all, workforce VDI is not about a single application or a small user group, today it is about fostering a resilient remote workforce.
The focus on resilience has taken priority over some of the traditional reasons to provide VDI, such as lower support costs and lower cost devices (i.e. thin clients or BYOD). However, it is also now a critical component of attracting the modern workforce. Increasing work flexibility and enabling workers to use the devices they prefer is critical in attracting and retaining critical skills.
Seven Considerations for Moving from Isolated VDI Deployments to Pervasive VDI
Recognize that there are many more options today than a few years ago. On premise or cloud, VDI or DaaS are just some of the options. Each offers advantages to certain use cases, so choosing the right options is critical. In many cases the right answer will be some version of a hybrid solution, both on premise and in the cloud. Here are the seven considerations that I point out to my own clients when selecting among VDI options:
- Define the user, application, and device needs. Are they power users who will need high performance and perhaps GPU processors? Are they developers who want full flexibility? Or are they K-12 students who can become group users for a much lower cost?
- Understanding usage patterns is key. For example, the traditional boot storm challenges of task workers when a shift started (that big draw on all network resources as shift workers log in and simultaneously poll the servers) may be very different in a remote world. Can you stagger times to minimize any surges? Are three shifts using the applications or just one? VDI for remote grammar school age students may be limited to normal school hours but with home schooling the hours may extend. College students may demand 24-hour access. Teachers or professors often require more capability and access than students, including work hours before and after class times. The more predictability and variability in the usage, the more likely cloud options will provide clear financial advantage.
- Vendor licensing is a significant factor. For example, emerging Windows Virtual Desktop options within ELA offers for K-12 schools. Or Horizon within VMWare ELA’s for enterprises.
- One of the key benefits of VDI has always been security. The ability to retain data inside the data center, and not have it walk out the door on personal devices, is critical. Security threats have changed and with that comes the need to provide endpoint protection plans for all devices accessing your VDI workloads. Another key focus, for many applications including SaaS, is identity management. Choosing an option for identity management that supports all the applications workers will need to access simplifies usage and support.
- Data doesn’t always live inside the walls. While VDI keeps some data nicely protected, the reality of remote workers means data will be created and used outside of those secure applications, especially when the user is a power user or developer. Understanding the data lifecycle and how it is protected across on premise and cloud is critical. For that other data are you storing that in the cloud or protected file shares? Are you backing up all the critical data?
- Storage performance matters. Employees using VDI applications are, in the end, providing services to your clients. To ensure client satisfaction, understand that performance is critical. To that end, most clients are choosing all flash storage implementations, and in many cases GPU options, for optimal results. Hyperconverged systems are the preference for on premise VDI with dedicated or high-performance storage options when VDI is in the cloud.
- Flexibility and Cost Management. Hybrid usage requires an automated hybrid management approach. As described above the solution is now, or needs to become, more hybrid. That coupled with the goal of flexibility while managing costs will require a dynamic approach to deploying and managing the VDI environment. Investing in automation across all elements of the hybrid solution or choosing a tool that can automate and optimize deployments is critical to support the dynamics of today’s remote workforce.
For your business to be resilient your now remote workforce needs to be resilient as well. They need to be able to continue doing what they were doing while innovating and adjusting for new conditions from wherever they are. A robust VDI implementation with flexible choices spanning on premise to the cloud is one important component in achieving that goal.
Aspire Technology Partners is a NetApp Gold Partner and is closely aligned with NetApp’s data driven solutions which help customers achieve digital transformation and IT modernization. As a Gold Partner, Aspire is committed to the continuous refinement of our people skills and expertise in the solution areas of hyperconverged infrastructure, cloud services, flash storage, and data management. The Aspire and NetApp partnership and collaboration allow us to guide customers throughout their digital journey, as they use data at the core, in the edge, in their Data Center or in the Cloud, to innovate platforms and services for their customers, employees, and partners.