So many new advancements in technology come out yearly that it’s almost impossible to keep up with it all. Especially when you look at the technology that large businesses and enterprise organizations can implement, there’s a dizzying array of choices. Every new piece of technology ideally solves some sort of problem, but it also creates new ones. It’s impossible to eliminate every flaw, after all.

Knowing this, it’s easy to see why virtual desktop infrastructures aren’t as popular or ubiquitous as cloud computing. Unlike the cloud, VDI has very specific use cases and works well for fewer companies. Though there are several instances where a virtual desktop infrastructure will fail to deliver on its many promises, when you use it appropriately, it can deliver superior performance and user satisfaction without the major pitfalls you’ll experience with an unoptimized rollout.

The Question Of VDI

Implemented properly, VDI will appear the same as traditional workstations to end users. The difference is that your users access virtual machines running on a central server rather than each of them booting up a full, distinct workstation. This gives your IT team the ability to troubleshoot all software problems in a single location, deliver the same experience whether users are at the office or abroad and manage file storage more closely. You can quickly roll out new software and upgrades to all users — or just a select few — by making changes to the snapshot of a parent VM image if you’re using linked clones without having to visit each user’s physical machine. When someone’s desktop or laptop goes down, you don’t have to try to salvage their information or restore a backup. Just grab a spare computer and they can log in to the same interface, applications and files.

To overcome VDI’s inherent weaknesses, you need a strong infrastructure. If you’re still running your network on 802.11g or 10/100 Ethernet, it’s time to upgrade. To stream hundreds or thousands of virtual desktops, you need a beefy network. For the best results, run fiber optic cabling throughout your building, stepping down to gigabit Ethernet at naturally important hubs. If you have to maintain a Wi-Fi network, upgrade to at least N, though AC will hold out much longer than an N network.

You need powerful equipment on the back-end, too. Make sure you have servers capable of running a separate desktop for each user with plenty of headroom left over for future additions and to keep from bumping up against the limits of your computing power. Get some solid VDI storage, too. A hard disk array is susceptible to boot storms and the I/O blender effect, so avoid them. Solid state storage with built-in dedupe, thin provisioning and compression will keep latency low, IOPS high and handle random I/O much more gracefully.

Setting up VDI properly takes a sizeable financial investment, so evaluate all your options before deciding on a course of action. If you have a very small group of users who need instantly available computing power — for audio and/or video editing, for instance — then VDI isn’t for you. If, however, most of your office just uses a Web browser, office suite and email client, VDI will streamline support, maintenance and installation. If you do it right, it can save money, too. The key is to gather information about your users — their habits, wants and needs — in addition to your budget and wish list. Once you have the whole picture, you can make an informed decision.