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What to look for in a VDI troubleshooting tool

VDI management is complicated, but the right troubleshooting tool can make it less so. IT should consider these factors when choosing a troubleshooting tool for its VDI deployment.

VDI deployments are often wrought with complexity, so IT should prepare to deal with issues. There are countless tools available for VDI troubleshooting, from free utilities to comprehensive enterprise-class monitoring suites.

Having too many options can be overwhelming, however, so IT pros should narrow down what they are looking for in a VDI troubleshooting tool. Here are some capabilities to keep in mind.

Deep platform insight

Each VDI platform has its own unique nuances; performance metrics that are considered healthy for one VDI platform might not be ideal for another. Similarly, error messages also tend to be platform-specific.

When it comes to VDI troubleshooting, a generic multiplatform tool probably won't be helpful. Some of the multiplatform VDI tools -- especially the free ones -- do little more than ping resources to ensure that they are online and responsive.

While there is nothing wrong with a tool that supports multiple platforms, it is only practical if it understands each VDI vendor's unique way of doing things.

Actionable insight

A good VDI troubleshooting tool should be able to take most of the work out of identifying and fixing problems. There are two main capabilities that the tool must have to accomplish this.

First, the troubleshooting tool must be able to pinpoint the true source of the problem. VDI deployments are almost always based around a distributed architecture, so it is very common to see a symptom on one server when the actual problem is on another. A high-quality VDI troubleshooting tool should be able to identify the root cause of the problem rather than the symptoms.

A good VDI troubleshooting tool should be able to take most of the work out of identifying and fixing problems.

The second function that the troubleshooting tool must perform is to provide helpful advice on how to correct a problem. Imagine that a VDI troubleshooting tool pinpointed the Microsoft SQL Server database as the root cause of the VDI issues. It is helpful for the troubleshooting software to tell IT why the database connectivity is failing -- perhaps the service account's password was changed yesterday and the VDI software is still using the old password. It would be less helpful, however, for the tool to tell IT that SQL Server is generating an error code 4060 with a severity code of 16. A quality troubleshooting tool will generate actionable insight rather than spit out error codes.

Capacity planning capabilities

One of the most important tasks of preparing for a VDI deployment is capacity planning. The IT department must determine how many virtual desktops it will comfortably be able to host. This number can vary depending on the software that will run on the virtual desktops and how users are expected to run that software. For example, knowledge workers that perform tasks such as sending email or browsing the web will use fewer resources than users that administer systems or work with large graphic files.

One of the big problems with virtual desktop capacity planning is that these early estimates quickly become outdated. Every time an organization adopts a new application, upgrades to a different version of an existing application or even applies a service patch, the resource usage profile for its virtual desktops changes. Usage profiles can also change when users take on additional job responsibilities. Because VDI resource usage is constantly changing, IT must treat capacity planning as an ongoing process.

Capacity planning is not technically a troubleshooting function, but various performance and stability issues can stem from hardware resource depletion. Since it is better to avoid a problem than to troubleshoot one that has already occurred, IT should include a capacity planner in its arsenal of tools. A good capacity planner can monitor hardware resource consumption and alert the administrative staff of any projected shortages.

Health, historical dashboards

One of the most important features that administrators should look for in a VDI troubleshooting tool is a health dashboard. Modern VDI deployments are complex with resources that span multiple physical and virtual machines. A health dashboard can provide administrators with a high level overview of the VDI deployment as a whole and alert them to any problematic conditions.

The ability to go back and look at historical performance data can also be helpful for VDI troubleshooting. In some ways, historical logging goes hand in hand with capacity planning because capacity planning is based on tracking resource use over time. However, historical data can also be useful in other ways.

For example, let's say a performance dashboard indicates that a particular host is not performing as well as it should. If everything was working fine yesterday, then IT could compare yesterday's performance data to today's data in an effort to better understand the problem.

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