There is more to providing virtual desktops than a configuring a hypervisor and installing a broker. VDI is the fresh face of Server Based Computing (SBC). But SBC as a solution for delivering centralised solutions is not new. Presentation Virtualisation solutions – such as Citrix XenApp and Microsoft Remote Desktop Services found that simply providing access to resources was only the beginning.  To be an effective solution, administrators had to manage the user experience. Obviously this appears an anomaly, a business driver for SBC is to better allow for ‘simplified, centralised management’ – yet in reality SBC requires good management in order to give best a timely Return on Investment (ROI). For many, this was a new and complex experience.

In a traditional desktop environment, each user has their device. Poor performance is rectified by ignoring it, or upgrading the hardware. Both these solutions are costly. That said, poor performance for one user, for a particular application, has little or no impact on other users. As everyone used the same device they didn’t often have to experience the pain of losing application settings if they moved to another device – or it was accepted that if they did move their logon time would be longer. Every user has a PC and only uses it in the office – application licenses are bought for each PC.

Server Based Computing meant that you have to consider three areas of user experience more keenly:

  • Provision and maintenance of user application settings to their workspace
  • Performance of user applications within their session
  • How those applications licenses are managed

Not addressing these issues won’t stop a desktop virtualisation solution from delivering a service to users: but, without addressing these issues, the ROI time is impacted in that the time taken to deliver a solution that matches performance of the desktop could be longer and/or take more resource – in terms of time and hardware.

Entitlement to application access is one of the most important aspects of policy management, yet for most organizations it is one of the most difficult to manage. Typically it is controlled by complex scripts and high maintenance activities.  If you aren’t proactively managing your license use, you expose your organisation to the risk of having to pay for far more licenses than already have; or the expense of maintaining payment for more licenses that you actually need.

Importantly, solutions need to be able to work across hosted/physical/mobile devices – it is rare that hosted desktop solution is able to convert 100% of devices in an organisation – so a solution isn’t useful if it can only support some users.

Citrix Recommending Appsense for XenDesktop

Citrix has components in XenApp that addresses user experience issues –CPU and Memory Management components were licensed from and Aurema and RTO, and profile optimisation was licensed from Sepago. With XenDesktop 4, Citrix now actively promote AppSense’s suite as a complimentary solution.

AppSense‘s suite provides three components to address the user experience issues: Environment Manager, Performance Manager and Application Manager.

Environment Manager provides for personalisation of environments and allows the users to take settings for applications between environments – be that from an application hosted on their physical to virtual desktop, or to their laptop. Environment Manager also has the unique facility to lock down application access over and above what is available in standard policies and registry settings; its multi-threaded logon processing means that logon times can be reduced by parallel execution of logon actions improving logon times. Performance Manager enables CPU smart scheduling, memory control and disk resource management – optimising server capacity for centralised resources, or improving performance for mobile devices with its unique disk read/write optimisation offering.  AppSense Application Manager automatically controls application usage on a per user basis out of the box, without the overhead of scripts or lists.

AppSense provides a feature rich solution; but it is complex to configure and does require agents installed on the end devices. It does not yet support delegated administration of management activities within the management components. That said, the suite provides solutions to address a number user experience issues, and individual components can be deployed for specific requirements.

VMware looks to RTO Virtual Profiles

VMware has licensed RTO‘s Virtual Profiles as part of their VMware View solution. RTO’s Virtual Profiles is focused on reducing time for roaming profiles to be delivered to the user: cutting down on logon time and reducing instances of corrupted profiles. RTO Profiles doesn’t need to leverage a back-end database or management system. While there is an agent required on the end device, files are stored in user’s profile folder.  As such, RTO Virtual Profiles requires very little infrastructure change and can be deployed not only to your hosted desktop environment, but to Presentation Virtualisation servers or physical devices. The latest version introduced a number of technologies such as Live Sync and GPO Set Path support for Windows XP to further help maintain a consistent logon experience.

That said RTO Virtual Profiles does only address a single aspect of the user experience – logon performance. It does not help to manage or maintain the user workspace, or optimise logon process outside of the profile load e.g. in logon script optimisation.

RTO does have additional products that report on and optimise performance of user applications. RTO Pinpoint tracks application performance metrics and RTO TScale provides memory and CPU management – but both of these tools are focused on optimising Presentation Virtualisation sessions rather than physical or hosted desktops.

But, to enable faster logon times by optimising logon performance – RTO Virtual Profiles is a proven and reliable product.

Liquidware ProfileUnity Pro

A solution that allows organisations to look beyond logon optimisation is Liquidware’s ProfileUnity Pro. Liquidware have gained a considerable reputation in their assessment and planning of VDI – but their product set has expanded to move beyond assessment migration to active management.

Liquidware’s ProfileUnity product allows user workspace management by enabling profile management and portability. ProfileUnity Pro extends that profile management capability by automating workspace configuration tasks such as adding printers and configuring Outlook. ProfileUnity Pro has configuration database requirement which for allows a simple implementation configuration; simple to manage and deploy – means that you can quickly integrate the solution into your environment. Liquidware’s ProfileUnity Pro is positioned as a tool for enabling VDI deployments which it delivers on, but once you have enabled your deployment how is that user environment and application access managed? Liquidware’s Stratusphere does provide detailed reporting on the performance of the user experience – but reporting is reactive rather than proactive, to manage issues in performance or license use identified by the reporting tools will still need additional tools.

Tricerat

triCerat also provide user workspace administration tools as part of their SimplifySuite that seek to help simplify configuration, presentation and management of user workspace.

  • Provision and maintenance of user application settings to their workspace
  • Performance of user applications within their session
  • How those applications licenses are managed

SimplifyProfiles helps maintain user application settings by implementing mandatory profiles to allow users to customize and save their workspace settings as if they were using roaming profiles. Reporting monitoring and auditing is available and if performance issues are identified, SimplifyStability allows you to control the allocation and management of CPU and memory resources and this can be reported on with Simplify. As a feature not available in any of the solutions mentioned here, Tricerat’s Suite also delivers a comprehensive printing solution

RES PowerFuse

RES’s PowerFuse product looks to deliver a wide range of VDI management tools encompassing personalization, reliability and license administration.

PowerFuse matches a good deal of AppSense and Liquidware’s functionality in terms of managing user application settings and managing user application performance.  While it doesn’t have the detailed control of AppSense’s lockdown of Environment Manager and license configuration of Application Manager, and while its reporting is less detailed that Liquidware’s Stratusphere it does have a very straightforward management interface.  A major feature of PowerFuse is that it allows a fine level of administrative delegation and version control of individual settings – a benefit especially in larger organisations with a number of teams providing support for users.

Desktop Virtualisation is not Server Virtualisation

VMware may have coined the phrase VDI, but there are a number of solutions that look beyond the concept of consolidation and centralisation which are at the core of VDI.

Solutions such as MokaFive’s LivePC or Virtual Computer’s NxTop look to wrap the delivery of a user’s workspace – their operating system, their applications, their data – and deliver that to the users device. Solutions to deliver a fuller desktop as a service solution. Rather than focus on migrating workspaces from the end devices, the end devices are still fully utilised – with virtualisation at the end device allowing for standardised configurations, better management for operating system and application deployments but importantly without the need to deploy and migrate to a costly centralised server solution, and provide the facility to allow users to work off-line and to have dedicated device performance.

User Experience Good, Management Better

When delivering a virtual desktop you are not simply virtualizing the desktop operating system as you might do a server. You are changing the way the end user’s workspace is delivered and you want to manage that workspace more effectively.  A user workspace is made up of a number of elements including settings for their applications, browser, desktop and printer settings, their personal data, their e-mail profiles – essentially any individually customizable element that enables end users to do their job effectively.

To enable that centralized workspace consider three things more keenly:-

  • provision and maintenance of user application settings to devices
  • performance of user applications within their session
  • how those applications’ licenses are managed

Citrix and VMware understand this, and are actively promoting solutions to help deliver their VDI solutions.

When considering your VDI deployment it’s not just about how you host the desktops, but how you manage your desktop performance, license use and user’s workspace to give, not only a good user experience, but a timely return on your investment.

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Andrew Wood (144 Posts)

Andrew is a Director of Gilwood CS Ltd, based in the North East of England, which specialises in delivering and optimising server and application virtualisation solutions. With 12 years of experience in developing architectures that deliver server based computing implementations from small-medium size business to global enterprise solutions, his role involves examining emerging technology trends, vendor strategies, development and integration issues, and management best practices.

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