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Managing and supporting the flexible desktop

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Desktop Strategy Many organisations nowadays crave the ability to offer employees “flexible” desktops. This is seen as a way of keeping pace with more mobile, flexible working practices by providing access to the same corporate desktop systems from any, or at least approved, Internet-connected devices.

You can achieve this by virtualising applications or other desktop components using VDI, remote desktop or terminal services deployments. No surprise then that some Reg readers are turning to virtualisation technologies, including those for virtual application and profile access, to realise the benefits of increased desktop flexibility.

IT departments are implementing virtualised desktop environments to consolidate, standardise and streamline IT resource management and delivery, including licensing compliance. Instead of full PC workstation hardware, users get more flexible access, where thin clients can cut the costs of hardware and power, and virtual profiles can offer access to a personalised desktop from pretty much anywhere.

Managing and supporting more flexible desktops is not just about buying new client devices and servers though. Automating many routine PC and software maintenance tasks can offset the management load of increased uptime and security that often accompanies the delivery of increased flexibility for the end user. Organisations can also vary the degree of resources, such as processing, storage, and networking, that are needed depending on the type and scope of virtualisation technology deployment. A different or new sets of management tools may also be needed.

IT management tools must meet clearly defined resource and policy enforcement needs, according to Quocirca analyst and director, Bob Tarzey. He said research has shown that ensuring the right resources are allocated demands an understanding of the likely future requirements when desktop workloads are provisioned. For example, virtualised desktop workloads may need plenty of storage allocated to ensure users can always save their work - although thin provisioning allows you to pre-allocate storage.

The planning phase of workload requirements is the time to ensure that appropriate security is in place and that the software used by the workload is fully licensed. "Once workloads are deployed, it is necessary to measure their activity and monitor the environment they are running in," said Tarzey.

This may sometimes mean allocating more resources or perhaps moving workloads from one virtual or physical IT environment to another, and ensuring that security and compliance policies are maintained. For example you may want to ensure that users can process and store personal data in permitted locations, firmly within corporate firewalls, with encrypted transmission across a VPN.

Of course, flexible desktop initiatives need to mitigate risks from an increased reliance on connectivity to corporate or public networks for IT delivery. Putting stronger identity and access management and intrusion protection systems in place is a cost no organisation can afford to leave out of a desktop virtualisation project.

To overcome any difficulties that may affect virtualisation or the delivery of complex applications, including multimedia ones, testing, migrating and monitoring the software estate in the new desktop environment is also important, as well as setting up and maintaining driver updates for printers and other peripherals across a greater variety of access endpoints.

Major vendors are responding to demand for more flexible desktop provisioning with licensing changes. Last July, Microsoft eliminated the need for Windows Client Software Assurance customers to buy a separate licence to access its operating system in a VDI environment, folding virtual desktop access rights into its enterprise-level Software Assurance licence. It also extended access rights to virtual Windows desktops and Microsoft Office applications hosted on VDI and remote desktop technology via secondary, non-corporate network devices, such as home PCs.

Whatever the technology investment, IT datacentre managers should give full consideration to the backend impact of more flexible desktops. Without these considerations, any intended benefits might be hard to realise for IT, as well not apparent to, or at worse counterproductive for, the end user. ®

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