Prepare your network storage for desktop virtualization

Network storage requirements for virtual desktops are often overlooked until it's too late. Plan and pilot before you deploy!

The popularity of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) is growing as enterprises both large and small start to realize the operational and environmental benefits it can offer. Centralizing the desktop operating environment in the data center, though, can lead to unexpected challenges -- such as a wallop of transactional stress on expensive centralized network storage.

Failure to plan and test for the VDI load can result in poor performance and uncomfortable budget overruns. Here's a quick guide to provisioning the network storage necessary to do VDI right.

Setting requirements

Before you start with any form of VDI deployment -- even a pilot program -- be absolutely sure to define a complete set of requirements. This will be vital as you deploy a pilot and start pushing it into production. (Most critically, do not allow the feature set of any particular VDI solution to drive your requirements.) If nothing else, your requirements list may serve as a litmus test that indicates VDI isn't a good solution for your users. If that happens, don't try to make the requirements fit the technology -- wait until the technology fits the requirements.

At a minimum, the requirements should include everything you expect users to be able to do with their virtualized desktops. Will they need to install software on their own? Do they need to view full-motion video and/or audio? Do they use real-time client-side devices such as microphones or webcams? Is remote access or access over a low-bandwidth WAN necessary?

Some of these requirements may have important storage consequences. For example, the best TCO can be delivered by deploying nonpersistent virtual desktop pools in which each user will have his or her user state loaded into a "fresh" virtual machine at every login. This is extremely beneficial in that it ensures users enjoy a completely clean environment free of malware and "Windows rot."

It also means that capacity-saving approaches such as VMware's linked clone technology can be used. However, a fresh virtual machine makes it nearly impossible for users to install their own software and expect it to be there the next time they log in. Maintaining desktop persistence generally requires that each user must have a dedicated desktop -- which removes a big chunk of the desktop management benefit VDI can offer, as well as dramatically increasing your network storage capacity requirements.

Building a pilot

After you've carefully defined your VDI requirements, match them to a specific VDI product offering and invest some resources to build a pilot. This pilot environment should be large enough for you to test a meaningful cross-section of users of varying types during normal day-to-day activity. This is important not only to gauge user impressions of the functionality VDI offers, but also to give you a chance to determine what kind of server and storage resources you'll need to run a full-blown deployment.

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