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March 24, 2014

Interview with David Thomson on Virtual Desktops

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Today we are outlining answers from our interview with David Thomson who is the CIO of Columbia West Properties and Pineapple hospitality located here in Seattle. For more information on Pineapple hospitality please visit www.staypineapple.com. David has been with the company for 3 years and has implemented a centralized I.T. infrastructure, in some cases taking applications from the cloud in house, and employed cloud services in others in order to streamline operations for a multiple location company. A critical business need during that time of company growth was supporting multiple cities, moving from a Seattle based organization to now including Portland and most recently San Francisco. With these additional cities the company I.T. has needed to scale over long distances with minimal resources at the outlying locations. To maximize uptime with minimal IT support one piece was adding a virtual desktop solution.

Question:
How do you handle redundancy for the virtual desktop server?
Answer: We spread our virtual desktops out among multiple servers and have enough capacity to sustain a full server failure should that unfortunate event occur. The servers that provide the connecting infrastructure also need to be spread out and prepped to support a failure.

Question:
What is the costs to set up a virtual desktop environment for 10 users who already have existing client hardware devices? Ball park figure.
Answer: You can expect to pay about the same amount for a vDesktop infrastructure as a full desktop/server refresh, the more users the easier it is to achieve this, 10 users may pay a small premium over standard desktops, 20+ desktops will actually save over a standard desktop/server refresh. Just keep in mind getting into this with a smaller user count only makes sense if you do it all at once, as you have to overcome the initial server acquisition cost (the computer where all the desktops run). Incremental users will also be about the same cost to add, but the time to get them up and running is vastly reduced so you will save a bit on implementation costs. Just be sure to discuss your projected head count growth with you IT provider or internal IT staff so that you’re not getting yourself into a situation where you outgrow your server in the first couple years.

Question:
Why should a company use a hosted virtual desktop environment?
Answer:
One big reason is mobility. A person can log in from the office, on the road or the comfort of their own home and have the exact same desktop experience. The other advantage in using XenDesktop is the ability to connect using a PC, Mac, iPad, Linux computer or Android device, it doesn’t matter, you can connect to your vDesktop using whatever hardware you already own. You have the option of getting rid of VPN connections that may not work on all devices and have people login directly to a website connecting to their virtual desktops instead.
Another great benefit of virtual desktops is the ability to create one computer configuration, getting it configured just right and then cloning it out to all your users. Build once and deploy it to as many people as you like. Get a new employee, no problem, buy another license and click a few buttons and you’re up and running with the exact environment they need.

Question:
How do you know if you are good fit for a virtual desktop environment?
Answer:
If your desktop infrastructure is up for a refresh soon, it may be almost the same cost to switch to a virtual desktop infrastructure and give you more benefits to a mobile workforce. Another instance where it would be a good fit is if you have the same or similar productivity software deployed to the majority of your workers, it can actually reduce your support calls, because you deploy once and that exact setup goes out to everyone. A virtual desktop environment is a great fit if you’re dealing with 10 or more users or you need the advantages it gives for people working remotely.

Question:
What industries is a virtual desktop environment good for?
Answer:
Any businesses that has several computers that also share similar software requirements. It would also benefit any business that wants to open a branch office or eliminate an office altogether and maintain the same file sharing and local LAN feel and workflow. Another great choice is for offices where limited bandwidth is a concern, it might seem counter intuitive but connecting to vDesktops can actually improve your internet experience when dealing with lower speed connectivity because the vDesktop is the machine actually accessing the internet is housed in a datacenter with really fast internet and your connection to this virtual desktop is only downloading screen refreshes and not doing the actual heavy lifting from the internet.

Question:
What is the reason Pineapple Hospitality moved into virtual desktop environment?
Answer:
We had a line of business application that was performing poorly in the cloud where it was hosted, after exhausting several options we moved the application into our own datacenter and deployed virtual desktops at that same datacenter allowing the application to perform like it was on our local network. This vastly improved the user experience and reduced infrastructure and maintenance costs by centralizing the environment.

Question:
Why shouldn’t we use virtual desktops?
Answer:
If you’re a company of under 5 employees the initial setup costs maybe too daunting in terms of overall cost. Also if your company already has a significant investment in very new desktops, which are less likely to see problems and may run great for another few years your might be better off letting it ride until considering a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.

Another point of concern can be the number of computers connecting to specialized peripherals such as credit card readers; industrial equipment etc. while basic serial and USB peripheral pass-through to the virtual desktop are standard, sometimes specialized local peripherals can be a challenge. When evaluating for a virtual desktop environment I would suggest moving peripherals to using a network interface rather than using USB or serial whenever possible. Keep in mind basic keyboard, mouse and printer pass-through is not a problem and isn’t of any concern.

Question:
What business problems can I expect desktop virtualization to help me solve?
Answer:
Allowing full productivity where limited bandwidth is available. Centralizing applications and improving user experience. Supporting bring your own device initiatives. Allowing for remote workers and giving a standard experience for your workers wherever their connecting from.

Question:
Where do you see desktop virtualization heading in the next one to five years and will my investments today still be valuable tomorrow?
Answer:
Virtual Desktops are becoming much more common place. Shipping a thin client out to either a remote worker or branch location will be as easy as shipping a VOIP phone and allowing a remote worker to pick up work calls is now.

Question:
How do businesses handle the scenario when they need to use AutoCAD or Photoshop in a VDI environment?
Answer:
In the past, replacing a high end PC required handle lots of graphics processing for AutoCAD or Photoshop was not possible with virtual desktop but that’s no longer the case. The Virtual Desktop infrastructure has the ability to assign dedicated graphics cards to individual virtual desktops allowing for the same graphics processing to occur as people have come to expected of normal high end physical desktops.

Question:
Any desktop virtualization tips that I might not have heard of?
Answer:
When evaluating a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure make sure that it’s as flexible as your user base devices are diverse. In other words, you can no longer expect employees to only use work specified devices when working at home or at a remote location.  It’s important that your I.T. infrastructure supports what your employees already have. Another concern I have heard is that people won’t be able to support dual monitors and this isn’t the case, we use these flawlessly every day, some of my users don’t even know their working on a virtual desktop.

We hope this gave you insight into whats possible with virtual desktops for your business. Thanks again for being a loyal reader of our Predictably Better newsletter. We’ll be back next month!

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