As many find out the hard way, just because you bought Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, Workspace or VMware Horizon, or Horizon One does not mean installation is as simple as clicking next, next, next, and auto-magically creating a great end-user experience.
- Now more than ever, it's important to get the end-user experience right, especially when you're providing a hybrid work environment with remote workers. A recent IDC Analysis linked improved employee experiences to improved business outcomes, including improved customer experiences.
At Whitehat, we've compiled our own remote environment checklist when working with virtualization technology. From completing proofs of concepts, assessments, and thousands of desktop and application virtualization projects or from lessons learned managing VDI environments globally, we've found seven fundamental reasons why customers do not get what they expect from VDI workspaces and why VDI environments never get past initial small deployments.
- If your end-users aren't having a good remote desktop experience, start here:
1. The VDI hardware is under-resourced for the number and types of desktops it is delivering.
Without taking the time to do a VDI sizing assessment, it can be challenging to determine the proper resources to allocate to each type of user (accountant, sales, marketing, graphic design, architect, engineer, animator, etc.) to make sure they are going to have a great VDI end-user experience.
Get a VDI sizing assessment done if you don't have the resources to work this out internally. The final deliverable should include each user type/use case listed and the server resources (CPU/Cores/RAM) needed to deliver the right user experience. Compare the results to the combined resources of the VDI hardware you have in place. 95 percent of the time, we see a healthy gap between the available resources and the resources the combined VDI user pool needs to deliver the right end-user experience. The other 5 percent, where the available resources are sufficient to meet the resource need, is usually a configuration or optimization problem in the VDI environment or a related system that needs resolution to improve the user experience.
One mistake to avoid is when you’re determining if server resources are being over-committed, looking at CPU utilization, seeing that it is only 30-40 percent utilized can lead engineers to falsely assume there are plenty of available CPU resources for end-users, regardless of their complaints of slowness. CPU metrics are averaged over a 24-hour period and for most of those hours, no one is at work, so CPU utilization can look artificially low. It’s not uncommon to see CPU utilization at 80-100 percent during the day in real-time and zero percent utilized at night and see a low average.
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2. Do not understand the server resource requirements for employee use cases to have a great VDI end-user experience
A lack of understanding of the appropriate resources needed for each group of end-users works could be a side issue for problem number one. But as a company focused on delivering great end-user experiences, I felt it necessary to single this issue out. No surprise that companies are made up of people in different roles, doing different things, but all working toward the company's success. What can be a surprise is that there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all desktop solution for each end-user use case. Time is needed to understand each use case and make sure each one gets the right number of resources to be productive and successful.
3. Lack of virtual desktop expertise
While desktop virtualization can be the foundation of a very successful work-from-home strategy, save a small fortune in support labor managing endpoints and improve data security by keeping everything in the data center. It takes a unique skill set to deploy and manage successfully. VDI environments do not work the same as usual client-server environments in the same way that you would not take care of a single-family home in the same way that you take care of an apartment building. There are commonalities, but the differences are not necessarily intuitive.
Winging it with a side of consulting Google does not make for a successful VDI management strategy. If you find yourself here, not comfortable with the knowledge and experience on the team for managing VDI, either outsource that expertise or enter into a co-management agreement, hire a VDI specialist if practical, or determine who on the internal team is going to get the certifications and build the experience necessary to do the job. Anything less is a recipe in frustration.
Doing nothing or applying a lot of bubble gum, bottlecaps, and baling wire to the situation to keep the environment glued together is a common approach. Having a bit of a specialty in rescuing dumpster fire VDI environments, if you do not see meaningful, noticeable improvement in your VDI environment in one week with someone focused on it, there is most likely a skills problem. Some environments can be torn down and rebuilt in that time.
4. The resource requirements for your applications and app. behavior was/is not fully understood
Applications create productivity gains for end-users and need to be fully understood from a delivery standpoint. Nothing destroys an end-user experience like a poorly written or under-resourced app.
Look at how your applications are performing and how they are utilizing server resources. What applications are single-threaded, meaning they can only utilize resources from one CPU core outside of some turbo magic? Which applications are multi-threaded? What resources are they asking for in the environment? Are antivirus/security packet inspection apps bottlenecking app performance? Do they have memory leaks that eventually consume all available resources and require a reboot?
Some environments have a few primary applications. Some have 5,000 or more. But they need to be understood so you can resource them properly. Windows 10 consumes 40+/- percent more resources than Windows 7. So, if you did an in-place upgrade and overall performance went down, it may not be Citrix or VMware Horizon's fault, or your servers, as it commonly the case. It’s the apps.
Get an assessment if the time or expertise is not available to do the work. Assessments vary in their scope, looking at the VDI environment specifically or expanded in scope to review and evaluate all the systems VDI relies on to work and deliver a great end-user experience. Ask for a sample deliverable of the final product so you can be sure the final document meets expectations and provides the data you need to correct the environment.
Many do not know that they have single-threaded applications in their environment and even less know how to properly resource them, leaving end-users frustrated with the user experience and complaining of lag or slowness. Not knowing the root cause of the problem, IT departments often throw more resources (servers, cores, etc.) at the problem and are perplexed when the complaints are the same after throwing the kitchen sink at the problem.
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5. Insufficient resourced or neglected end-user computers/laptops/thin clients
With VDI, it’s possible to put a low-cost, security-hardened device on the end-users’ desk without giving it much thought and calling it a day. The end-user experience happens at the endpoint. Applications and data must jump that last 18" between the screen and the end-user for any productivity gains to happen. Ignoring the suitability of the computer, monitors, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals on the desk for the use case is an avoidable mistake.
It makes sense to pay attention to what happens with the data and applications after metaphorically leaving the data center for the end-user. Does the endpoint on the end-users’ desk have the capability to do what they need it to do in the daily function of their job? Do they need a webcam or speakers? What about an endpoint with a graphics card to support multiple monitors? Is a headphone jack needed or any special peripherals to execute their work?
Understand the resources needed for each use case making sure not to limit end-user productivity with underpowered endpoints, potentially eliminating the very productivity and efficiency gains the applications were put in place to provide. If you need help, sizing assessments give the detail you need to successfully select and deploy endpoints that can meet the needs of all identified use cases.
Many think that because they have deployed VDI, they can go with the cheapest endpoint available to realize some cost savings, paying no attention to the use cases that need to be met by the VDI environment for end-users to be successful. There are hundreds of different options that can sit on the desk of an end-user. The most often overlooked component with VDI endpoints is GPU. If end-users need multiple monitors, an endpoint-based GPU is necessary to make that possible.
6. Reported VDI problems are usually not VDI problems, but issues with the thirteen systems that ultimately support VDI and combine to create a good user experience
When end-users report that "VDI is slow," it’s reasonable to assume that there must be a problem with the VDI environment, though it’s only responsible for this "slowness" 40 percent of the time from our experience. It’s not uncommon for the problem to be the group policies, SQL databases, storage, or any of approximately 10 other supporting systems. Take a comprehensive view of the situation instead of staying laser-focused on what must be wrong with the VDI environment. Work with peers to define reports and console views to provide the clues necessary to diagnose and remediate problems quickly. If this is a systemic problem, see the next and last point.
In doing the work of IT Operations, many shortcuts can be taken for at least theoretically good reasons that can cause problems down the road. It’s not uncommon when remediating or in the early stages of managing a VDI environment that we see shortcuts taken in network design, group policy, IP scheming, among others, to rear their heads as problems within a VDI environment. In the same way, shortcuts in application development can lead to issues when end-users try to use applications in a production environment; shortcuts taken in the building and managing of an IT environment can lead to issues in production VDI environments. Time saved taking a shortcut may be spent later unwinding the shortcut to remediate a problem. Avoid the shortcuts or be prepared to have them exposed, needing to be remediated, to optimize VDI performance.
7. IT is blind to what is happening in the VDI environment
You can't fix what you can't see. In some of the environments we remediate, the right raw resources are in place to create a great VDI environment. However, the necessary tooling is not there to provide IT with an effective way to see the VDI environment from the inside, limiting their success at diagnosing, troubleshooting, or remediating issues within the environment.
Where possible, upgrade your VDI version to include the tooling and set it up to effectively help diagnose problems. Use tools inherent to the VDI platform chosen or (and I rarely recommend this) acquire a third-party tool (i.e., ControlUp, etc.) to give you visibility into what is going on in the environment and provide some guidance on where to root out problems. Alternatively, if you outsource or have your VDI environment co-managed, all the tooling necessary to manage, monitor, and automate remediation are often included in the management packages.
To save money, some firms buy or subscribe to lower-tier VDI licensing that does not have management tools to gain visibility into how the environment is functioning. Saving money by ignoring the value of onboard management can be a mistake in many cases, as it can cost more to have IT spend resources fumbling around in the dark, pulling reports from disparate systems to gather enough clues to identify and fix what is wrong.
The issues we presented here are widespread, and I hope that some of these tips help you get to the bottom of your issues and run a thriving VDI environment, which can deliver an excellent end-user experience, save support costs, reduce security risk, and deliver desktops anywhere there is an internet connection in the world. The positive comments we get from actual end-users, managers, and leadership in the banking, architecture, healthcare, manufacturing, among other industries, prove that achieving an excellent end-user experience is possible.
We’re predominantly a services organization built to serve and make those in the environments we support look like heroes in what they can do and accomplish with their VDI and IT challenges out of the way. With a solid performing VDI environment, the world becomes a giant chessboard. The available talent pool expands, end-users are happy and productive, the customer experience improves, and your business is exceeding performance goals.