What it takes to get your desktop back up and running
Recovery and provisioning
Desktop Machines fail. Hardware has a lifespan, and hard disks have a shorter life than most. Heads crash, bearings wear out, and motors fail – and data gets lost. The resulting downtime is lost productivity, information workers away from their data and their applications.
There may not be as much of an effect on your business as losing a server, but it will have an impact on business processes – while the PC is out of service, and while users get their repaired and reinstalled desktop working just the way they want.
That’s why many businesses have standardised on common desktop images. Users can install what they like from the usual approved list of tools, but if anything goes wrong, all that’s needed is either a quick re-image or a new hard disk that’s ready to go. IT time is kept to a minimum, but users will need to handle customisation and data recovery themselves.
Common desktop images are easy to build, but they’re harder to keep up to date – as well as handling operating system updates, they also need to be kept up to date with the latest drivers and the latest application patches. You’ll also need one for every different PC type in your business, something that’s harder than it seems, as what might seem to be the same model could have a very different configuration.
The very image
Windows PCs can take advantage of the Windows Image install options introduced with Vista, applying drivers as part of the install. Tools like Microsoft’s Windows Deployment Service can deploy these images, handling joining the image to a domain and installing key applications.
Your users will be online in minutes, on their new hardware. Roaming profiles will connect them to server hosted data directories, getting them productive quickly. Keeping image files up to date can be handled offline, patching your core image in minutes rather than hours.
Desktop recovery can be even quicker with virtual desktops. Not only does user state live in the network, along with their data – so do their desktop and applications. All you need to do is deliver a new machine, pre-configured with a base image and a VDI client and, as soon as your user logs on, they're right back where they need to be, ready to carry on where they left off. Getting a user back on line can be as quick as rolling a trolley to their desk and swapping out failed hardware with new equipment.
Keeping desktop images current is also easier, as you’re able to just manage one virtual machine, with user desktops held as deltas, simplifying storage requirements at the same time as reducing the time needed to deploy patches and updates.
If you’re able to get a user’s desktop back online quickly, then you can use similar techniques to get new users up and running quickly. Common OS images are easy to deploy, as are standard application bundles.
Tools for the job
Desktop optimisation tools let you apply role and group rules to the bundles deployed – and application virtualisation tools can stream new applications to user desktops as soon as roles change or as soon as projects and tasks require access to new applications. Automated processes can image a PC once it’s connected to the network, with little or no manual intervention required.
Virtual desktops and modern image deployment tools simplify the process of deploying and redeploying software to users, but that does mean you’re going to need to be ready with a library of supported images and software. It’s a change in the way IT has managed user PCs and applications, but it’s a change that means that users are kept productive, from their first day at their desk and through hardware failures and system corruption. ®
It's also worth mentioning
that many Linux flavours, such as OpenSUSE, have had customisable installer systems for many years, as well as the standard image option. On OpenSUSE, it's trivial to set up an AutoYaST configuration on a customised install disk to specify the OS and applications, network configuration, online software sources, etc. based on the current machine so that even if re-installed onto a different set of hardware, the system will work like the saved setup. Ready to run, with all services present and both OS and apps correctly updated to the latest available. Of course, if you like having to ensure all your computers are fully hardware compatible, then I suppose a brain-dead 'image install' is fine.
Just saying, for the benefit of those who might otherwise be led to believe that Windows is the best or only way to do this stuff.
standardised desktop images
> many businesses have standardised on common desktop images. ..
I use Ubuntu running off a USB device and my data is off in the cloud somewhere so we don't even need desktop optimisation tools ..
Why the agro
I use citrix extensively. Licenses can be expensive, sure. But in the context of recovery, the solution is very simple. Our clients use wyse terminals. Chuck the broken one in the bin, plug in a new one, and its running in under 1 minute.
The beauty of the citrix platform is its a many to one relationship, ie, you have many connections using a server, that only needs to be patched once, yet many clients benefit. Rotate the servers through availability cycles, and clients will never even know a server has been down for maintenance.
When you look at the total cost of ownership, buying equipment is a very small fraction of the costs - maintenance frequently costs far more. If you can setup your design / architecture in such a way as to minimise maintenance, I reckon it pays for itself very quickly in normal operational terms; the benefits to recovery are a bonus on top of this.