Posts Tagged 'infrastructure'

Virtual Desktops: Persistent, Non-Persistent, or….Both?

Use cases are critically important in virtual desktop implementations. Identifying and understanding your various use cases will help you make more effective decisions about your VDI architecture — the underlying platform and management technologies, broker, clients, communication protocols (RDP, PCoIP, etc), storage requirements, and so on. Some use cases may be better supported by one system design and set of technologies, other use cases may work better with an alternate design and/or technologies. And no matter how badly you want to be 100% virtual, some use cases may not be well suited for VDI at all. At least not yet.

While the specific details of each use case will vary, all use cases can generally be distilled down to two types — persistent or non-persistent. Non-persistent desktops refresh themselves to their original state on shutdown/startup; they don’t maintain user data, personalization settings, or any other changes. Persistent desktops do, and therefore can be more complicated to work with, often requiring more storage, a potentially different backup structure, and a host of other considerations ranging from how to handle access to local USB devices and printers to user needs for installing personal software and administrative rights. Which is why many institutions focus their VDI projects on non-persistent desktops.

At Menlo, we are rolling out both types of virtual desktops, but decided to start with our simpler non-persistent ones. Or so we thought. It turns out that while our lab and learning space *do* refresh themselves on shutdown/start up (we use a software called Deep Freeze to maintain a steady state in our physical environment), and *do not* maintain user data or other personalization/changes the user makes, they have persistent attributes nonetheless. So they’re *both* persistent and non-persistent at the same time. Oy.

What makes our environment both? While we do expect our desktops to return to their original state, that original state includes a customized desktop background and specific positioning of icons on the desktop, among other things. This isn’t that difficult to do with a physical image, but in a VDI environment this spans both persistent and non-persistent attributes. To make matters even more challenging, some of the software we’re using on our presumably non-persistent desktops requires level of persistence to, well, work properly. Or at all.

These challenges are all solvable — but possibly not in the ways that you think. To manage icons we found a program called RocketDock, so instead of ordering the actual desktop icons we get rid of these with an AD script on log in and replace them with an application that serves up icons in a configuration we set at the application level. Scripting at various levels has also helped address some of our persistent/non-persistent issues. (For the record, and in the interest of full disclosure: our VDI solution is a combination of VMWare View and Unidesk, and we’ve been working with Rob Zylowski and the folks at @UnideskCorp to solve these problems. Their creativeness and brilliance in finding solutions to these challenges cannot be overstated.)

The key, in my opinion, to addressing at least some of these issues is understanding what need you’re actually trying to address, and then figuring out the best way to solve that problem. And I don’t mean the need for ordered icons or specific desktop background — those were just solutions that were designed to meet the need in your current environment. There might be different, possibly even better, ways to solve it in a new virtual environment. Or you may find that because of the differences in the environment, the need simply no longer exists.

Which brings me right back to….yep, you guessed it….use cases. Knowing and understanding them is *key*. Once you’ve figure out “how” you do things for each use case, don’t forget to ask “why”. And when you think you’ve got them all figured out, go back to the drawing board and take a look at them again. And again.

Are You Doing “It”? (Cloud Computing…What Did You Think?)

Everybody’s doing it. You know you want to, too….

Well, everybody’s talking about doing it, at least. But what is “it,” exactly? Turns out it’s rather complicated, and somewhat subjective. There’s outsourcing. Hosting. Software as a Service (SaaS). Public clouds. Virtual private clouds. And so on.

The “it” I’m talking about, of course, is cloud computing. And we’re definitely doing it at my school. Or, well, talking about it anyway. Planning for it, really. So if you’re planning for “it” too, it’s really important to know what you want “it” to do for you—what your objectives are—to ensure that you pick the right flavor of cloud computing, or right flavor mix, to meet your needs.

Here are my objectives at the moment (subject to change, as we’re currently developing our strategy), as well as some underlying assumptions:

  1. Create an easily maintainable, highly scalable, and environmentally-friendly IT infrastructure
  2. Reduce overall IT infrastructure costs
  3. Focus IT resources on the college’s core “business” – teaching and learning
  4. Increase access to technology resources and services
  5. Promote [my school] as a technologic leader and innovator

Implicit in these objectives is that a fully-implemented cloud computing strategy will:

  • Shift the focus from capital to operating expenses, with an overall cost reduction
  • Reduce the amount of staff (FTE) needed to support and maintain a cloud infrastructure
  • Reduce electronic waste and energy consumption
  • Increase flexibility to meet growing demand or bring new services online
  • Enable campus constituents to access campus services from anywhere

My vision for our institution is a technology-free data center. I want to walk into my data center and see fresh white walls, bright lights, and *no* servers. It’s not that infrastructure isn’t important – it is. It is the foundation upon which all of our services are built, and like the foundation of a house, it needs to be solid, reliable, and secure. But operating a data center provides no strategic advantage for my institution, and I would suspect, for most institutions. By leveraging various forms of cloud computing to realize operational efficiencies, we can refocus our finite IT resources towards supporting activities that *are* core to the institution—namely, teaching and learning.

I don’t know if it’s possible to get to an empty server room (and realize the benefits of such), but we’re sure going to try over the next year or so. Will you be doing “it” too?

@rclemmons on Twitter

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