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Phasing in desktop virtualization

Desktop virtualization gives the business peace of mind. That was the bottom line when I asked Todd Bruni, director of client services for Christus Health, about the benefits of building a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

Since the inception of client-side virtualization in the form of server-based computing seven years ago at Christus Health, employees have steadily gained anywhere access to the data they need to get their jobs done. If one of the 40 hospitals or affiliated facilities goes down, physicians will soon be able to use any device to tap back-end systems in the primary or backup DR facility.

“Knowing that they have multiple ways to access data, services or applications, that flexibility is a comfort and has become an expectation,” Bruni said.

An expectation that led Bruni’s team to start building a VDI to give employees access to more critical information like medical records, and more complex processing scenarios that could not be handled by Terminal Services. This is the latest phase of the desktop virtualization project. Prior stages included hosting some applications in the data center and moving the majority of task-based applications off of desktops using Terminal Services.

But building a VDI is not so simple. Sure, the endpoints can be thin clients and therefore cheaper and easier to manage. But personal devices also need to be factored in, and data that once resided on only personal devices now has to be managed in the data center. And cost savings won’t be a primary driver, since desktop virtualization costs span heavy-duty servers and additional licensing.

In other words, throw out any notion that developing a VDI will be as simple as server-side virtualization.

“With server virtualization, you worry about CPU cycles, memory, disk, network connectivity — the same things you did before,” Bruni said. “In the client [virtualization] space, you have to worry about screenshots, latency on circuits and whether that causes Flash video not to perform appropriately. There’s a lot of things that run on a desktop that never used to run in a data center.”

In the end, the benefits, including better disaster recovery, make investing in VDI worth it. Just make sure you take the time to educate your staff on the differences between desktop virtualization and server virtualization, and keep in mind that your virtual desktop strategy will change as business needs change, he said.

“We have to constantly re-evaluate and redesign [desktop virtualization] technology to adjust to our application portfolio and user requirements,” Bruni said. “It will be a constant improvement process.”

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