The ability to effectively manage a VDI environment hinges on having the right tools, but what features and capabilities does an administrator really need? Perhaps a better question to consider is whether the organization needs a VDI management tool, a VDI monitoring tool, or some combination of the two.
Although it’s easy to assume that VDI management is essentially the same thing as VDI monitoring, nothing could be further from the truth. VDI management and monitoring have completely different goals from one another.
VDI monitoring is based around the collection of performance metrics with the goal of using those metrics to detect and remediate performance problems. In the past this meant focusing on individual performance metrics such as storage I/O and memory consumption, but today this trend is largely giving way to user experience monitoring and application monitoring.
Management on the other hand, is focused on maintaining the individual virtual desktops and the backend infrastructure that is being used to host them. This encompasses the day to day tasks that must be performed in any virtual desktop environment. This includes tasks such as applying software updates, pushing registry keys, managing operating system services, or troubleshooting OS or application issues. So with that said, let’s consider some of the more important features to look for in a VDI management tool.
Naturally, every organization has its own unique needs, but the one need that universally applies to all organizations is the need for reduced administrative effort. A good VDI management tool needs the ability to reduce the amount of time that it takes administrators to perform common maintenance tasks. In fact, it is common to measure the ROI for such tools based on the number of man hours that the organization is able to save by using the tool.
When it comes to managing virtual desktops, there are three main things that a good management tool needs to be able to do. A tool must be able to allow for bulk management operations to be performed, it must make it easy to provide assistance to users who need help, and it must be able to validate the software that is running on a virtual desktop.
Bulk Management Capabilities
One of the keys to a good VDI management experience is that the management tool must be capable of bulk administration. Most of the organizations that use VDI have numerous virtual desktops and it is neither practical nor desirable to manage those virtual desktops individually. In fact, managing virtual desktops on an individual basis would completely undermine the reason why some organizations deploy a VDI environment in the first place.
Many large organizations rely upon a single virtual desktop image that is deployed to thousands of virtual desktops. Although it is undeniably important to keep this image up to date, some virtual desktop updates are more urgent than others. If an update needs to be made immediately then updating and redeploying a virtual desktop image to thousands of virtual desktops is not practical. More immediate results could be realized by using VDI management software to perform a bulk management operation across all of the virtual desktops.
Consider for example, the fact that large retailers commonly use VDI as the basis for their point of sale systems. Such a retailer may have thousands of stores and tens of thousands of point of sale systems. VDI makes it possible to deploy a single virtual desktop image to each of these point of sale systems.
Of course the use of VDI in these types of environments isn’t just about the convenience of using a single virtual desktop image. It’s also about consistency. Point of sale VDI images are rigorously tested for stability and security. As such, retailers go to great lengths to make sure that all of their point of sale systems are running identical virtual desktops. The sheer number of virtual desktops in such environments and the potential consequences associated with manual configuration changes make a strong case for using a tool with bulk management capabilities. Such a tool would allow the organization to make any required changes across the board, while maintaining consistency from one virtual desktop to the next.
Imagine for a moment that a new security mandate in your own organization requires you to configure your virtual desktops to receive updates from a new WSUS server. How would you comply with this mandate? Although updating and redeploying the virtual desktop image is an option, it would not deliver immediate results. A much more practical option would be to use a third party VDI management product to push the change to all of the existing virtual desktops without the need for redeployment.
End User Support
In any organization, users are occasionally going to need technical support. A good VDI management tool should allow someone from the helpdesk to remotely connect to an end user’s computer in order to help the user. In addition to providing remote connectivity, the management tool should also allow the helpdesk staff to correct any problems that they might encounter with the user’s virtual desktop. This might mean that the support staff needs to copy a file, run a script, or perform some other action.
Such capabilities can be especially useful to organizations that are testing pilot deployments of new software. One such organization is currently allowing a select group of users to begin pilot testing the current Windows 10 preview release. When Microsoft announced the open availability of the Office 2016 preview the organization asked their Windows 10 users to download the touch optimized versions of the Office apps from the Windows 10 store.
Most of the users had no trouble with this task, but some users reported seeing error messages saying that Office 2016 was not compatible with their device. The support staff was able to use remote connectivity to assist the users with the problem and soon discovered that those users who were having problems were missing an update. Once the source of the problem had been determined, the support staff was able to push the required update to the users which allowed them to move forward with deploying the Office 2016 preview.
Software and Configuration Reporting
When it comes to operating large numbers of virtual desktops, consistency is of the upmost importance. If virtual desktops are configured in an identical manner, then they should behave identically, which helps to bring down support costs.
Although a collection of virtual desktops might have been created from a common image, configuration drift can occur over time. An update might fail to be applied to one or more virtual desktops. Someone might make a manual configuration change to an individual virtual desktop. These and other actions can lead to differences from one virtual desktop to the next.
In order to truly be effective, a virtual desktop management tool needs to be able to compare the virtual desktops to one another and report on any differences that may exist. Such a tool might for instance, report on an application that has been installed on one virtual desktop, but not the others, or it might report that a handful of virtual desktops are still running an older version of a particular application.
Such a feature would have certainly been helpful in the previously discussed organization because the support staff would have been able to easily determine the difference in configuration that allowed some users to download Office while others could not. However, such a feature is equally useful for detecting rogue software.
Most VDI environments are configured in a way that prevents users from installing unauthorized applications, but even in such environments it is still possible for rogue applications to exist. A user might for instance accidentally visit a malicious Web site that quietly installs malware to the user’s virtual desktop. Depending on whether the virtual desktops are persistent or non-persistent, the malware may begin injecting registry keys and making configuration changes. A software and configuration reporting feature has the ability to compare virtual desktops to one another and to detect undesirable configuration changes.
VDI management tools provide a different set of capabilities from monitoring tools. Although some VDI management tools may offer monitoring capabilities, a good management tool should provide bulk management capabilities, simplified end user support, and software and configuration reporting.
We would like to hear from you. What other capabilities do you consider to be important for managing VDI environments?