Split the Desktop

 
 
By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2011-04-12
 
 
 

When business workloads run on the same hardware that also supports personal-use applications, IT needs to intervene to protect the business.

One method of separation that I've been exploring lately is the use of desktop virtual machines and centrally managed virtual desktop infrastructure. Virtual desktop products are one of the best ways to keep work and play separated on common hardware. So why does it seem that VDI has an uphill battle when it comes to implementation?

If one thing is clear, users have generally developed configuration-complexity habits. And despite the marketing hype, complexity is the enemy of VDI. It's also, by the way, the enemy of productivity. Because most Windows users run with administrator rights, their desktop and laptop systems quickly become a customized den of family photos, music play lists, idiosyncratic games, screen-savers and any manner of borderline-legit copyrighted content. This mess is usually encased in a grim veneer of "you touch this and you'll draw back a stump."

Use VDI to complexity madness to an end. The best way to start is by providing stellar support for the company-provided virtual desktop and completely cut off support for the personal-use desktop applications that may be running on the same hardware. If your organization encourages a BYOM (bring your own machine) policy, make it clear that only the work side of the system is going to be supported by IT.  

A great next step is to simplify the work side of the equation. Ruthlessly determine what applications are required for user job performance. Make it an IT mission to be the best at providing and supporting these required applications. Be quick, efficient and inexpensive. And once that's done, simplify some more. I think that VDI is among the most promising technologies to deliver on this milestone.

After cutting users loose from IT support and simplifying the business desktop, look at your license use. Make it a mantra never to "pay twice, run once." Doubling desktop operating system license fees is a great way to suck the life out of a virtualization project. So, for example, don't pay for a license to run a PC operating system on the hardware and then pay again for a license to run that same operating system on the virtual machine on which the business workload is running. One of the chief reasons is embodied in my next rule.

Don't double IT support work to get the same level of user productivity. In other words, think very carefully about a desktop virtualization plan that requires the same patch/password/update process on the physical user systems that you have today and that then adds a patch/password/update process on the virtual desktops that will be supported on the user system. Thin- or zero-client devices or bare-metal hypervisor technologies are compelling alternatives that drastically reduce device-support costs while serving as a base from a successful VDI implementation. (See eWEEK Labs' NxTop review.)

For any of this to work, IT must convince executives to lead. Executives should lead by example and publicly give up all the exception-based loopholes that enable them to surf whatever site they wish for as long as they wish. Executives should adopt a corporate standard desktop background and eschew vacation pictures as desktop backgrounds. And executives should put a public premium on simplified (meaning the presence of only essential applications) workplace desktops. And executives should back an IT strategy that drives a burning line between work and play on user systems where both types of workloads cohabitate, likely a strategy that uses virtual machines.   
 

 


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