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Mike Laverick’s IT Hero Podcast: Virtualizing Desktops & Apps with Stu McHugh

I first met Stuart McHugh (Stu to his friends) at the London VMware User Group when I was still active on the steering committee. He’s been on my podcast the “chinwag” and he’s the co-presenter of our monthly “vNews”. In fact it was Stu’s encouragement that fired me up to start the vNews podcast after an extended sabbatical. So let that be a warning to everyone out there, if you come at me with a great idea – expect to step up to the plate and join me!  I really enjoyed chatting with Stu. As I increasingly move away from the front-line aspects of delivering systems to business, I think its ever more important to keep in touch with the “real world”. You see at times I feel I work in a media bubble of my own creation – and its important to prick that bubble at every opportunity to keep yourself grounded with what customers actually thinking, and actually implementing.

Stu currently works at a law firm in the city of London – but despite having operations around the globe, it’s still classed as an SMB by most big ISV’s like VMware because the head count is less than 500 employees. In many ways the company is symbol of the new type of SMB. Empowered by the way we are so globally connected most SMB can have global presence without the need to employ thousands of staff.  By harnessing the best that technology can offer you can connect staff to staff, and staff to customers in away that might have been unthinkable even a short decade ago.

On our podcast we focused on the work Stu has been doing around the area of virtual desktops and virtual applications.  It’s a topic close to my heart as I put the finishing touches to my next book that covers not just VMware View and VMware ThinApp, but also draws in other complementary technologies such as Teradici APEX, BitDefender SVA and F5’s BIG-IP – as well as looking forward to the so called “post-PC” end-user computing initiatives such as ThinApp Factory and Horizon Application Manager.

One of the subjects we touched upon during our podcasts is the challenge of sizing a virtual desktop solution. The interesting aspect about VDI is that is has the strongest uptake amongst the SMB community. It was research that Stu and I touched upon in our last vNews. Whilst the statistics speak for themselves – it did leave the question begging why? I think there are a number of reasons. Firstly, most SMBs have a relatively strong grasp on their desktop builds in the sense they are close to their users and know what applications they need and use. True, there have often been challenges around driving standardization from one person’s desktop to another – and I think that’s what to some degree is driving the adoption. View’s “linked clone” feature allows you to create a single “parent VM” from which all other desktops are generated. Of course it’s designed for rapid deployment and saves disk space – but the other big benefit is consistency. Secondly, PC acquisitions tend to be made on a more ad-hoc basis in the SMB – we buy new PCs as when we need them, and we don’t buy them in the terrifying bulk quantities as they do in the enterprise. That can lead to a heady brew of different OSes on the end-point – WindowsXP, Vista, Windows 7 and by the end of the year Windows 8. VDI offers the chance to repurpose aging laptops and PC with the soon to be end-of-life Windows XP OS with a remote connection to hosted virtual desktop. Thirdly, whilst the enterprise guys are likely to setup a dedicated vSphere environment to host their mega-virtual desktop deployments, the SMB is more capable to re-use the spare capacity in their clusters for other VM workloads. That means the desktop and the backend services it connects could be on the same gigabit network or even on the same ESX host – with network traffic moving at the speed of the CPU, rather than negotiated speed of Ethernet. Finally, I think the other reason VDI is taking off amongst the SMB is scalability. Most proof-of-concepts in the Enterprise start off at the sub-500 desktop level, sadly many fall foul of a storage array that lacks the disk IOPS to accommodate the random IO pattern generated.  Assuming an SMB does not experience massive “new hire” growth, these IO challenges may not even exhibit themselves and if they do, they are more likely to come to light during the proof-of-concept phase and during early roll-out.

Now it of course, would be foolhardy to take anything for granted. For a VDI project to be successful users have got to like it. For them to like it, it has to offer a significant and palpable improvement in performance across the board. That includes faster logons, application load times and retrieval of data. Whilst at the same time ensuring the graphical experience is as good as any modern PC. That’s quite a tall order in anyone’s book especially as some PCs come with as much memory and CPU as a server did 5 years ago. So with that in mind, its certainly worthwhile taking a scan through the many documents, best practices and sizing guides produced by VMware and others over the last couple of years.

It’s these sorts of challenges and issues that Stuart and I discuss on the podcast. I hope you find it interesting. Oh, I don’t forget my previous podcast with Raymond Overman of North Carolina where we discussed the challenges of being the virtualization admin at a SMB and tackling the thorny issue of backup.


Mike Laverick is a VMware vExpert who writes, instructs and otherwise communicates about virtualization.

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