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Finding your best virtual desktop option: The right questions to ask

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Flickr / You Belong In Longmont)

According to Gartner, the Desktop as a Service (DaaS) market will grow 95.4 percent by the end of 2020. With so many approaches to virtual desktops, it can be difficult to even know the right questions to ask, but each approach has major differences and, therefore, significant implications for your success. Below are key considerations to help you identify your requirements and create a checklist for evaluating virtual desktop solutions.

Virtual desktop operational options

There are four possible operational approaches you can take for virtual desktop implementations. You can:

  1. You can implement the virtual desktops on-premises in your own data center.
  2. You can outsource your virtual desktops to a Managed Service Provider (MSP) who will implement them in their data center.
  3. You can implement virtual desktops in the public cloud using a vendor’s VDI broker.
  4. You can employ a turnkey SaaS platform to implement virtual desktops in the public cloud.

Options 2 and 4 constitute DaaS solutions, which many companies are finding to be more flexible as they look to support remote working for the long term. Options 1 and 3 are “do-it-yourself” approaches that come with associated complexity, requiring significant and well-trained IT resources to deploy and operate.

There are three primary requirement categories CIOs and CFOs want to discuss. Within each category are specific criteria you’ll want to consider as you narrow your list of solutions, along with important questions you must ask vendors.

1. Single user or multi-user Windows 10?

Providers may offer a slice of a Windows server made to look like Windows 10, which is a Windows 10 “experience.” There are performance and application compatibility considerations here, but “multi-user” Windows 10 can be a good solution for specific use cases, such as call centers, where shared resources make sense and performance requirements are low. In any enterprise, however, there are many roles in the company, and the computing needs for each use case vary. Some people need a dedicated Windows 10 desktop, and others need high-performance GPU capabilities. Chances are, you need a solution that offers a range of configurations.

Ask these questions to find out whether your requirements can be met for this evaluation category:

  • Is the Windows 10 virtual desktop delivered as a turnkey service wherein the vendor is responsible for the infrastructure?  Or does your in-house team need to manage infrastructure? If so, does your team have the necessary skills to manage cloud and virtual desktop infrastructure?
  • Is there a range of Windows 10 virtual desktops available, including single-user, multi-user and high-performance GPU workstations?
  • What is the service level agreement (SLA) and who owns it? Who is responsible for virtual desktop reliability? How does the vendor go beyond the desktop SLA to contribute to your business SLA? Would your business benefit from relinquishing the desktop SLA to a vendor, so you can assign IT resources to more strategic projects? Would a service that can monitor both virtual desktops and adjacent systems and proactively alert you to potential issues be of value?
  • What is the pricing model? Will the costs be predictable? Is it a CapEx or OpEx? If it’s a cloud solution, are cloud compute costs included? Are implementation and support costs included? Would a flat-rate pricing model be helpful to eliminate complex billing analysis?

2. Price/Performance Optimization

There are multiple elements contributing to virtual desktop price/performance optimization, particularly for large enterprises. One is the ability to implement a mix of Windows 10 desktops – single-user, multi-user (Windows server-based) and high-performance GPU desktops to match exactly the right computing capabilities with all the use cases in your organization. As noted in the previous section, a call center worker typically has very different requirements than a CAD engineer, and meeting their unique requirements requires specific capabilities that come at different price points. A once-size-fits-all proposal should cause you to run from that vendor.

Intrinsic to the price/performance discussion is the actual user experience, and the key to ensuring outstanding performance is the ability to place the virtual desktop close to every user. The desktop should not be more than 50ms away. Otherwise, productivity can suffer, and that’s an expensive problem. Here are essential questions to ask about price/performance.

Ask vendors and stakeholders these questions about price/performance:

  • Can you place the virtual desktop within 50 ms of every user around the world?
  • Is it easy to deploy any mix of single-user, multi-user and GPU configurations?
  • Does the solution necessitate investment in and management of infrastructure? Does the organization want to spend IT resources this way?
  • Can the solution scale across multiple cloud regions in minutes? Does it deploy across multiple public clouds? Can the global deployment be managed through a single admin console?
  • Can you deploy your virtual desktops across both on-premises and in the public cloud to meet data sovereignty requirements? Can the hybrid deployment be managed globally via a single admin console?

3. Enterprise-Readiness

Organizations have specific goals in mind when they consider end user computing. In a nutshell, they need to be able to customize virtual desktops to comply with security policy, operate within existing IT processes and meet regulatory obligations. Another core element among these enterprise capabilities is how the virtual desktop solution strengthens your business resilience. Achieving all of this and more requires the ability to customize the virtual desktop environment.

Here are some important questions to ask about enterprise-readiness:

  • Are you able to customize the virtual desktop with your existing corporate image? Are you able to use your existing desktop management tools, such as SCCM?
  • How does the solution enforce and augment your Zero Trust Security policy? Can the vendor see/access your company’s data?
  • What are the business continuity attributes of the solution? Does the vendor offer built-in backup and restore and cloud desktop redundancy across cloud regions?
  • Does the solution offer workflow automation such as integration with existing ITSM systems?
  • Is comprehensive auditing and reporting available and can data be exported for analysis in existing SIEM systems?

What’s best for you

These questions should help you begin to craft a virtual desktop checklist of requirements and then tease out key differences in approaches to virtual desktops. Compare your requirements against the answers you receive to gain insight into which of the four operational models will serve your organization best. Digital transformation, especially in this time of massive remote work, requires a well-conceived plan.

Deborah Thorton, Workspot