The Yin and Yang of Virtual Desktop Workloads

YinYangThe philosophy of Yin and Yang is about perceived or apparently opposite forces, which are actually interconnected and complementary. This duality can be found in nature, in medicine … well … just about everywhere. In fact, it’s even present in in the ongoing management and operations surrounding virtual desktop workloads.

On the one hand, you have the IT infrastructure and architecture. I’m talking about the servers and storage as well as the image and application strategy. On the other hand, you have the user. This organizational force drives business—and can be the bane of an IT professional’s existence. These two seemingly opposing forces (the infrastructure, image and applications and the user) are not only connected, they are the basis for success in the virtual desktop lifecycle. Without this Yin and Yang balance your chances for both near- and long-term successes are greatly reduced.

Virtual desktop transformations require you to balance this Yin and Yang, represented as three critical variables

Yin, includes:

    • Sizing the infrastructure, and
    • Orchestrating the image and application strategy

Yang

    • Meeting end user expectations – or stated another way, the user experience

Designing Yin by Status Quo

The first two Yin variables, sizing and orchestration, can be defined with a scientific method or can be haphazardly guessed with some back-of-napkin math. Regardless of the path you choose, most folks are able to get through the exercise of building the supporting infrastructure and creating a gold image—at least through the early proof-of-concept (POC) and pilot phases of the lifecycle.

As an aside, when it comes to delivering desktop virtual workloads, this is not simply an assessment exercise. Those of you in the know understand that architectures like VDI are living, breathing platforms. They ebb-and-flow with resource constraints and surpluses that are challenging to predict. The aggregate platform need is as difficult to stereotype as the users who depend on it. And so, this juggling act must become an ongoing practice if you want to stay ahead of the curve and ensure you’re meeting the need over the long term.

Back to the infrastructure, image and application strategy… Some will examine or measure a very small subset of their user base as a means to estimate the necessary server and storage requirement. Related, they will build an image that concatenates all supported applications, or create individual images; one for each department they plan to migrate to the new virtual platform.

While this strategy seems sound, and will be easily validated when the POC or pilot phase is reached. I can promise you it will not be the most optimal, nor will it yield the best operational efficiencies and long-term management benefit. The vast majority of POC platforms are significantly over-built for the small workloads they initially serve. It is not until the user count is ramped and the platform is scaled that things will start to unravel.

Gold image design and defining an application strategy are also often overlooked. For example, the next time you’re at a company meeting, see if you can visually scan the room, and group users based on the amount of average or peak RAM they consume on their desktops. This should seem like a ridiculous exercise to even attempt, yet most IT professionals will overlook the opportunity to minimize the number of gold images or tier users to make sure they find themselves in an optimal virtual pool.

Related, when attention is not paid to applications that are installed versus used, resources consumed or the frequency of needed applications, there is another tremendous opportunity missed. Not only do you run the risk of building a bloated master image, but you tax the supporting infrastructure for provisioned resources that may never be needed. Not to mention the opportunity to significantly reduce software licensing expense or deal with the time and labor-intensive burden of showing software compliance.

Leap Before you Look?

Most professionals I encounter look at the exercise of designing virtual workspaces as a back-of-napkin exercise. As hinted above, the status quo here is to take a ‘leap-before-you-look’ approach, or to assess a small subset of users and declare success when the POC goes effortlessly well. With well over 5 million desktops assessed (and counting), we at Liquidware Labs can tell you with profound insight that those that measure and baseline their entire user population are more successful throughout all phases of the virtual desktop lifecycle—from design to POC to the ongoing care and feeding of the platform forevermore.

Knowing important key attributes about your organization’s workload is beneficial throughout the transformation process. Not simply for the initial subset of user to be transformed—at the beginning of the project—but for the entire population, throughout the lifecycle of the platform. This detail will serve you in a number of ways. Namely, it will help you:

Build and manage a better platform – finding the your ‘Goldilocks’ spot, where you’re not over-provisioned, under-provisioned, but just right; helping you to avoid resource constraints both early in the lifecycle and later when there are spikes in user activity or changing user demand

Orchestrate the optimal image and applications – understanding the image, and placing yourself in a position to leverage solutions like ProfileUnity with FlexApp to better manage your user environment and application delivery; with the goal of operational efficiency and flexibility

Define a KPI for Success – this is about quantifying the user experience as a means to minimize risk; in the initial transformation as well as to support a key performance indicator over time; knowing this trend will provide a user-centric means to define health and efficiency

Needless to say, it’s the completeness of the Yin that many miss. Measure each and every user. Not simply as an assessment to build the infrastructure; but ongoing throughout the entire lifecycle, and forevermore.

Yang, a Balancing Force

As noted, most of the folks we encounter have a Yin—they either muddle-through the lifecycle, measure a small population and extrapolate (not ideal); or they look to where they want to end, and measure the entire population. The Yang, or user-centric view, is also often overlooked. I won’t get into the weeds in this post; however, the core issue here is the unknown, uncertainty and unpredictable nature of users.

Whether in small groups or large populations, the install base of a virtual desktop workload is a hard act to follow. Their needs change over time; think about the applications used by a small subset of your organization’s accounting group at quarter- or year-end. Or the last minute graphics project in marketing. Even the more mundane spike of activity in the call center can easily negate your pre-scale, pre-loaded virtual desktop planning efforts.

In short, you need to leverage a solution like Stratusphere UX to proactively and persistently look at user-centric trends. Trends in the consumption of in-guest resources, including the applications. Ideally, you’ll also want to correlate these trends by what was going on in your hosts, storage and network. If you’re not balancing your Yin with the user-centric Yang, you run the very real risk of identifying false positives; or worse, miss a poor user experience because the supporting infrastructure looks healthy. Stratusphere helps you through this exercise by providing a look at the user experience over time. It does so by offering visibility through a combination of a machine and IO-specific metrics—ones that we have learned contribute to a user’s performance and perception of the workspace itself.

This combination of a holistic approach to the platform, image and applications balanced with an in-guest, user-centric view provides the critical Yin-Yang balance necessary for success. Further, this balance is not a build-it-and-forget-it exercise. Because of the ever-changing and dynamic nature of virtual workload deliver, you must constantly keep your finger on the pulse of activity. We’d recommend doing so with a user-centric solution like Stratusphere UX. Let us know if we can help you find your balance.

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