Are Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Starter Kits Worth the Effort?

By David Strom

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In our story in November, Five Steps to Making Virtual Desktops a Reality, we outlined what is involved in getting started with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions. Another path towards VDI implementation is to examine one of numerous all-in-one "starter" solutions that bundle together the various hardware and software components needed to more quickly deploy VDI across your enterprise.

Fast forward to the end of this article if you want to see a summary chart of some products to consider, including those from Ericom, HP, Qwest Software and Sychron, and what they do and don't include in their bundles.

To get an idea of just what these "kits" can do for you, we'll start with a case study of Redlands Community Hospital in Redlands, Calif.

Redlands started with direct-attached storage with their first VDI solution and since then have migrated their virtual desktops to a storage-area network for higher performance, also replacing some of their PCs with thin clients.

"Initially, we went with a thin client device at the desktop in order to reduce support costs but ran into a performance issue with a fetal monitoring application," said Jeff Keith, a senior network engineer. "The driver and connection broker client needed on the virtual machine caused high CPU utilization with this application so we replaced several thin clients with desktop PCs where we were running that application."

This enabled them to place the units behind monitors or in other out-of-harms-way areas in their hospitals, which was appealing. "We also liked that we can switch users out to another VM very quickly in case of some failures, making them easier to support."

Keith has been using a collection of HP products along with VDIworks management software for over a year. "HP came out with a bundled product, turnkey rack, $1200 a desktop which is what we are getting. The real cost savings are maintenance and support, and ongoing upgrades. They have a really small form factor and very low power consumption, no moving parts, no fans, and very high reliability," he said.

The HP Total Care Infrastructure Solution bundles HP thin clients, HP ProLiant servers and Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 that supports up to 50 clients. HP also includes a variety of software tools including their Systems Insight Manager, Thin Client Device Manager and Multimedia Accelerator software. This collection can be useful to help monitor server performance, enable remote control for flexible deployment and manage VDI loads.

Temple, Texas

Another VDI deployment is at the city of Temple, Texas. They have used 45 virtual desktops with Wyse thin clients this year and are actively replacing their traditional PCs. The pilot was first deployed among five users in the finance and IT departments using Sychron's On-Demand Desktop solution. The city's plans are to replace 250 of the city's 500 traditional computers with virtual desktops. All departments, from airport, fire, police to the dogcatchers will work from a thin client.

All told, they have saved more than $2800 in a year on electricity costs related to the initial 45 virtual desktops that were deployed and expect to save approximately $42,000 per year as it relates to hardware costs, support, electricity and service on all 250 virtual desktops that will be deployed.

"You need to realize that there will be a lot of tweaking up front for performance reasons," Alan Deloera, the city's director of Technology. "I needed to provision our desktops in a way that made sense for on demand users, and need to define the various pieces of the desktop with more RAM or storage. The good news is that the Sychron piece does a great job of dynamically managing all of this."

VDI is also being used at the San Francisco Theological Seminary with Ericom's PowerTerm WebConnect to support more than 80 thin clients, mostly by recycling older PCs. "We really liked Ericom's ease of use and tech support and how it fit in with our Microsoft HyperV and System Center environment," said Larry Pickard, director if IT and Communications.

One caveat no matter which VDI "starter kit" solution you implement, is you have to have continuous power. "You definitely need backup power. If you lose power or hosts lose connection with the iSCSi SAN, the VHDs can become corrupted. That is an added expense that not everyone calculates," warned Pickard.

virtual desktop infrastructure

Dave Strom is a freelance writer living in St. Louis and the former editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, DigitialLanding.com, and Tom's Hardware.com. He has written two books and numerous articles on networking, the Internet, and IT security topics. He can be reached at david@strom.com and his blog can be found at strominator.com.