Here’s a direct quote from an IT Manager I spoke with recently:
“We’ve been using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) for a large percentage of employees for a few years now, but between you and me, it’s been a mess. We have no way of telling whether our virtual and physical users experience the same problems or not and most of the time we just hope things don’t go up in smoke.”
If you are familiar with desktop virtualization, you’ve probably heard or read about the running joke of “The Year of VDI”. In summary, 10 to 15 years ago, VDI was seen as the answer to everything as it centralized and standardized Windows desktops and applications into a service, making it super simple to provision and keep environments secure and up to date.
What’s not to like?
The reality, especially in the early days, was many delayed and failed projects. At the start, the reasons were typically upfront capital costs associated with on-premises infrastructure, complexity with the virtual platform itself, such as graphics, storage, gateways, virtual machine management, and so on, and then understanding how to scale the solution quickly.
I spent close to a decade in the EUC team at VMware and witnessed first-hand how they and Citrix worked very hard to make VDI simpler to architect and deploy. However, this did not, and has not, solved the real problem.
So, let’s explore this a bit further.
Who cares about VDI?
IT teams love the promises of VDI, but most users simply do not care if their primary desktop is virtual. In my experience, most people see a desktop as a place to go to launch applications and to curate and consume content, and that’s really it—the reality is that most people want a workspace that doesn’t get in the way of their job. In other words, most users do not care about the underlying technology, only that it delivers what they need.
I’ll give you a simple example. I’m writing the draft of this blog while on a train to London. I have an Internet connection, but it’s poor. I also have my personal hotspot, but this is not reliable. My connectivity has dropped 5 times in the last 20 mins. If I had to rely on a virtual desktop as my primary workspace, I would not be writing this blog, in fact, I would not be doing anything work-related at all.
As we move back towards hybrid styles of work, blending travel and office visits with home working, people with jobs like mine will need an offline workspace. VDI is not, and most likely will never be, the best primary solution for me.
Inclusion, Not Exclusion – avoiding IT echo chambers
IT often gets caught up in short-term VDI planning and pays for it later. If you have been involved in a virtual desktop project, you have probably had to spend a lot of time thinking carefully about how to manage profiles, how to package applications, how to configure the operating system, what the best storage options are, how to build the best architecture that’s scalable and the list goes on.
Also, if we take a step back and look at how traditional IT teams tend to work based on SLAs (service level agreements)—if no tickets are coming in from users, the assumption is that there are no problems. Building out a VDI solution, pushing it out, and hoping the phones do not ring is an approach I’ve seen more than once. Aside from promoting a reactive model, SLAs don’t incorporate employee feedback or contextual information—a central piece that can help measure and manage the overall digital work experience.
The best pre-migration assessment will not tell you what employees need a month from now. IT teams often need to rush to transition users to a VDI setup—once that task is done, they often do not place enough emphasis on checking in on how those users like their computing environment, and what issues they’re reporting or not reporting to the Help Desk.
With VDI, many teams are involved in the production and delivery of the service. If IT teams look inwards and focus only on what they are responsible for—let’s take infrastructure as an example—existing viewpoints and assumptions will most likely be reinforced and alternative ideas are rarely considered.
A few simple strategies to avoid this include:
1) Measuring what is actually happening at the point of consumption, continuously, for everyone. Monitoring the reality of consumption helps avoid assumptions about how services are actually being received by employees.
2) Adopting a more agile approach by making changes across smaller groups of people across multiple personas, roles, locations, and desktop types. The ability to fail fast, adjust the approach if needed based on facts, then go broader will make life much easier than big-bang approaches.
3) Engaging employees proactively when appropriate in a targeted and contextual way to solicit feedback.
A successful approach must start, and end with employee experience
Of course, a way to standardize and deliver a desktop anywhere is massively important, but for projects to be successful, it’s more important for IT to know how each employee is impacted on a daily basis. Here are some examples of what I mean:
Right-sizing and Right Scaling
Finding the perfect blend of the costs of virtual resources versus the desired experience is very hard to get right. Under-provisioning is much more immediate in terms of its effect as users with non-performant desktops and applications should let you know very fast. Over-provisioning is just as important though as this affects the longer-term viability of projects. Over-spending is a lazy way to try to ensure a good experience, but this often comes back to haunt IT teams later as projects can appear too expensive. To quote a customer I spoke to earlier this year on this very topic, “Staying in a hotel is a great solution, but is it cost-effective long term?”. The only way to continuously get the balance right is to continuously assess what employees are doing, the resources they actually consume, and how they are impacted day-to-day.
Avoiding the Blame Game
At my previous company, I was booked to visit a customer’s VDI team at their office. When the receptionist welcomed me, she noticed where I was from and proceeded to complain about how bad her virtual desktop experience had been recently. When I met with the team, I commented on the receptionist’s feedback and asked them what was going on. Rather flippantly they explained that the real reason was that the SQL database cluster that powers the receptionist’s software had been intermittently down, meaning that the systems for booking resources and contacting people were not working or very slow to respond. This simple example highlights two problems I see repeatedly. First, that desktop virtualization in all its forms often gets an unfair share of the blame. Second, a simple communication from IT to the employee would have helped manage the stress of a public-facing employee.
I often speak with EUC teams that just want to be able to own problems that they can solve, rather than virtual infrastructure operations teams being the default starting point for VDI-related issues. Avoiding the blame game requires relevant and timely information correlated across ALL employees cutting through the complexities of how desktops are delivered—whether it’s physical or virtual.
Proving VDI was the right choice
Sharing success needs to go beyond tracking and sharing traditional SLAs, such as ticket volume and resolution times, and focus much more on employee outcomes that combine performance and experience data with employee sentiment.
Nexthink’s Digital Experience Score is a good example of how to achieve this, as it codifies all of this into a simple score that can be used to clearly articulate success across non-IT teams, and for IT to compare and contrast the experience of all employees across all deployment types, locations, working styles, and many more factors.
It’s never too late to focus on experience
At Nexthink, we continue to see new customers choosing us to put experience at the front of their decision-making across all desktop types, whether they are physical, virtual, single-session, multi-session, on-premises, or cloud. We are also seeing many customers extend their Nexthink deployment into their virtual environments to gain the visibility they need to turn the tide; in future blogs, we will share their stories.
So, if VDI was created for IT, and most users do not really care about how their desktop is curated and delivered, then successful projects must start and end with what users care about, or in other words, their digital experience.
At Nexthink we believe that everyone deserves a fantastic digital experience, regardless of how their desktop is deployed.
Want to learn more? Contact us today!