Balancing desktop and workload management virtually or physically

Desktop management can be a challenge, but what happens when desktops are virtualized? Our expert describes how IT admins can successfully control them through virtual desktop infrastructure.

Managing a desktop environment has always been a fairly involved process. IT administrators are tasked with numerous

assignments, such as antivirus deployment and application patching. There are software tools available to help these processes along, but what happens when desktops become virtualized? IT shops should think about moving from desktop management to workload management.

The concept of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has taken many enterprises by surprise. The centralized storage and management of virtual desktops requires IT to look at endpoint devices differently. Client endpoint management now denotes the tasks that admins must perform to keep desktop, notebook or other non-server computing devices running smoothly no matter where they are.

With virtualization, IT professionals have to broaden their management minds and focus on making desktops more robust. They should consider the importance of monitoring and controlling workloads as the virtualized environment grows.

Understanding workload and desktop management

In the old sense, desktop control is the constant proactive management of physical endpoint devices and their respective applications (antivirus, backup, security, etc). With the introduction of virtualization within the desktop world, we see a hybrid of workload and desktop management. Analysis of a virtual workload reveals that it is an aggregate of the various components that make up an IT infrastructure. For example, a workload may include virtual applications, servers, desktops and profile management utilities.

The trick is to both manage the end-user desktop experience and control various workloads within a data center. To successfully manage a virtual desktop environment, IT admins must address many concerns -- some of which remain the same as with traditional desktops, while others are introduced by virtualization.

Combining desktop and workload management

By understanding the intersection of virtual and physical desktop tasks, admins can take a solid hybrid approach to managing the new wave of desktops. To keep physical or virtual desktops running smoothly, IT must complete certain operations, including the following:

Asset auditing and inventory management. Organizations must manage both their physical and virtual desktop assets. In environments that assign users laptops, smartphones or tablets, inventory is kept for both security and management purposes. Some enterprises, however, have developed bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives, in which employees are allowed to use their own devices for work. In these cases, physical security and asset management are no longer concerns. In a BYOD environment, admins can manage the workload only centrally at the data center. If a user loses a device, we to know that the data is still safe.

Operating system deployment, configuration and patch management. Even in virtualized desktops, admins must still manage operating systems. OS control in a physical environment can be tricky, but it's easily accomplished with a central management tool. All desktops on the managed domain are visible to the admin in the data center, so all OS patching, updating and configuration can still be done centrally.

Nevertheless, there are instances when engineers have to go on-site to administer a physical desktop. In a virtual environment, OSes are no longer stored at the endpoint. With VDI, OSes and applications are centrally stored at a data center and can be managed with master images. Once a reboot cycle is complete, virtual machines see all of the changes made to the master image and apply them appropriately. In addition, administrators are able to roll back images quickly should there be a problem.

Software license monitoring. In both worlds, this is always important. License management can be especially tricky when cloud license management comes into play. Admins -- virtual or physical -- will have to constantly monitor their applications, workloads and operating systems to make sure they are in compliance with their licensing model. Work with the vendor to assess the best license structure for your organization. There are many models to work with: concurrent, per-device or enterprise-level. In a given environment, a hybrid licensing model may fit best.

Virus/spyware detection and removal. Proper antivirus client deployment is essential to maintaining both a healthy desktop and a positive end-user experience. Centralized antivirus engine tools are available for enterprise clients and makes patching and updating a lot easier.

Antivirus clients can take up a lot of resources when they scan files or apply updates. Work with antivirus makers to get the best fit for your organization. For example, in a VDI environment, companies such as TrendMicro have taken a leap ahead: they are offering clientless antivirus scanning for virtual desktops. That is, scanning is completed at the I/O level before the files even hit the virtual desktop. Resources can then be given back to the virtual instance to help improve end-user performance.

Profile management. Desktop administrators must spend time checking profile size and location and protecting user profiles against corruption. Windows profile management enables users to roam with their profiles from desktop to desktop, but virtualization can complicate this. When users access applications that can be personalized, Windows' "last write wins" may become a problem. Profiles stored on multiple servers can't be managed as well, and some settings get lost.

For instance, AppSense can remove certain menu items to lock down applications and profiles.

Client backup and recovery. Safely storing desktop components will always be an important task. In a physical environment, a user's desktop must be constantly backed up. If a desktop dies, any end user must be able to quickly access files to become productive once again. Imaging tools and backup utilities help protect physical environments from such emergencies.

When virtualization becomes a factor, reloading an entire desktop or launching an application can be as close as a few mouse clicks. By using centrally stored master images, a user is able to have his personalized desktop back as soon as a physical resource becomes available. In a virtual environment, recovery time becomes much faster for users who need immediate access to their workloads.

Finding the balance

As more organizations begin to adopt virtual infrastructures, there must be a happy medium between workload and desktop management. Physical maintenance of server and data center equipment will always be a factor in how well endpoint devices perform. By keeping a healthy and well-managed environment, workload and desktop management becomes easier and much more structured.

About the author:
Bill Kleyman, MBA, MISM, is an avid technologist with experience in network infrastructure management. His engineering work includes large virtualization deployments, as well as business network design and implementation. Currently, Kleyman is the virtualization architect at MTM Technologies Inc. He previously worked as director of technology at World Wide Fittings Inc.

This was first published in November 2011

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