The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities made the virtual desktop shift for all 1,500 employees as part of a larger project to modernize its infrastructure.
The department announced a new virtual desktop infrastructure, based on management software from Unidesk and VMware View, on Feb. 28. The combination allowed DoDD to create custom desktops, allow user personalization, and support data persistence between sessions, Tom Rose, chief marketing officer of Unidesk, told eWEEK.
The DoDD embarked on the effort over a year ago to update its aging infrastructure to be “more agile” and to take advantage of private cloud computing, Kipp Bertke, the Information Technology manager at the Ohio DoDD, told eWEEK. As part of the two-year strategic infrastructure project, the DoDD had recently finished upgrading the local-and wide-area network and fully rolled out server virtualization, Bertke said.
“The next step was the desktop,” Bertke explained. He’d been watching the virtual desktop market “for years,” and the timing was just right-90 percent of the DoDD’s desktops were more than five years old, he said.
Operating under the “guiding principle” of “keep it simple,” Bertke’s team wanted to streamline desktop management while improving performance and the user experience. The team also wanted to customize desktops according to department and user requirements, he said. PCs are generally a “pain to manage,” so it made business sense to standardize all user systems. But users have certain preferences and want to be able to do some things their way, such as storage disk drive selections and printer setup, Bertke said.
Unidesk takes a layered approach to virtual desktops and replaces the “whole stack of tools” typically used to manage the operating system, applications and users, said Rose. The base layer is the operating system image, and the IT team can perform all OS-management tasks on the single image to have it available for all users, he said.
The next layer is for approved applications. IT can create different layers with software appropriate for each user group, he said. If there is an application update, the IT manager can update just the application layer specific to the group using it and not affect all other groups. The application and operating system layers are locked and not modifiable by the user, Rose said.
The fact that a single operating system image can be used regardless of the group’s application needs also reduced the VDI storage requirements, Rose said.
Unidesk Makes Virtual Desktop Deployment Feasible
The user personalization layer is a sandboxed environment that allows users to install their own applications or make changes to the system appearance, Rose explained. The user is responsible for maintaining the apps installed on this layer.
Since the personal applications have the potential of “breaking” the entire desktop for a multitude of reasons, Unidesk also provides IT managers with the ability to take snapshots of the virtual desktop. If something in the personalization layer breaks, the manager can rollback the layer to the last known “good” version, and the user still retains some settings, he said.
Unidesk’s management dashboard also keeps separate snapshots for applications and data in the personalization layer, Rose said. This way, if the user needs to roll back application changes, the data remains unaffected, he said.
“It’s complete freedom for users, but [with] locked-down systems for IT,” Rose said.
Bertke said the DoDD’s virtual desktop has a fixed look, with a certain number of shortcuts and wallpaper, but users can create their own shortcuts and place them inside a “Shortcuts” folder available on the desktop. This was the result of creating a balance between standardization and personalization, according to Rose.
The ability to create customized desktops was critical, since the virtual desktop was rolled out to “98 percent” of the department, he said, “even developers.” The only systems that didn’t make the move were legacy applications that had actual hardware attached to the system. But the team is investigating options for either migrating those legacy applications or finding a way to create a virtual instance of the attached system, noted Rose.
In the server virtualization phase of the DoDD project, the department consolidated 10 data centers-one one for each development center scattered around the state-into two data centers, and virtualized all the servers, including databases, Web servers and application servers, Bertke said. Since the servers were virtualized on to the VMware vSphere platform, it was logical to use VMware View to deliver virtual desktops. The DoDD also deployed a storage-area-network to meet storage requirements and expanded the network pipe so that it would be able to support the new applications without compromising speed and performance, Bertke said.
Unidesk supports a number of other VDI connection brokers besides VMware View, including Pano Logic and Citrix XenDesktop, to provide operating system management and application delivery, according to Rose.
Even though virtual desktop technology is mature, Bertke said Unidesk’s simplified management dashboard was critical to the department’s decision to move to virtual desktop. “Without Unidesk, I don’t know if we would have done it,” he said.
The department spent $1.5 million for the virtual desktop upgrade, which included thin clients, VMware, Unidesk, new servers, the SAN, and licenses for Windows 7 and Office 2010, Bertke said. The server virtualization phase was budgeted for $750,000, he said.