VDI Right on the Money

Jun 8, 2011

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DSC_9940_3 Guest Blog Post (Part 1 of a 3 part series)
By 
Raechelle Clemmons, CIO, Menlo College

So how much did your VDI implementation cost, anyway?”

A lot of people mumble incoherently and look at the floor when asked this basic question. Not us. Here at Menlo College we are well into the rollout of our new virtual desktops based on VMware View brokering software and Unidesk virtual desktop management software, and know *exactly* what it’s costing (actually saving!) us.  We’re deploying to 300+ users at an annual cost per virtual desktop that is well under $300 — pretty much the same as a physical PC, largely because the combination of View and Unidesk lets us create the desktops using local storage, which is much less expensive than SAN. That’s not the real news, though, because the true cost of a desktop per year — when you factor in the all-important staff time and operating expenses — is actually $1,120 by our estimates, while the new virtual desktops are coming in at an estimated $735 each. 

You can probably do this for even less if you are running very basic desktops that are the same for every user. But our implementation involves simultaneously deploying persistent and non-persistent virtual desktops for all of our users and use cases, including student labs, the library, administration, faculty and staff. Some of our faculty/staff have persistent desktops that maintain all persona customizations, like profile settings, data, user-installed apps and plug-ins. You’ve got to have Unidesk for that – no other product can support this level of personalization.  Other desktops are for classroom/lab use, so they are non-persistent, configured with specific applications, like Dreamweaver and QuickBooks. For library and student general use, we have non-persistent, kiosk-style desktops, and we have some special purpose desktops that serve up a specific app, like our Jenzabar ERP. 

Even though our desktops are all very different, they all share the same operating system and applications. This is the reason why our management costs are so low. Managing a single image for OS and apps is simply easier and cheaper than having multiple images managed by multiple management products. By sharing the same operating system and application layers across many virtual desktops, Unidesk lets our admins “package-once, patch-once, deploy-once” and we’re finding we can deploy patches to the operating system and updates to key applications such as Jenzabar to all our desktops in just a few hours, instead of the days it used to take us. 

VMware View is the other key enabler in our VDI implementation. Where Unidesk enables us to create and manage the virtual desktops, VMware View gives us flexible access to them. With View we can manage our pools, and ensure granular access control to those pools through Active Directory integration. We love how powerful, friendly, and easy-to-use the administrative console is, allowing every technician on my staff – from the most junior to the most senior – to play a role in supporting our VDI environment. But mostly, we love that View provides us with the ability to give our users 24×7 access to virtual desktops for offsite PC, Mac, and mobile use. It works with pretty much every client we have, and is downloadable for our students and faculty to use on their personal machines as well. Whether it’s a PC desktop, Mac laptop, zero or thin client, or even the Apple iPad — View can connect device to (virtual) desktop. Our students and faculty love View’s ease-of-use, and I love that my iPad can now be a complete productivity tool. No more laptop for me when I travel! 

One of the reasons we feel our project is successful is that we are virtualizing everyone at once — which we see as the way to get maximum return on our investment in VDI infrastructure and reduce TCO.  But also, we’re able to provide new, visible benefits – ones that everyone can put their hands on and smile. Students, for example, love that virtual labs can be accessed at any time from their own PCs in their dorms, or from any thin client or PC on campus. We have savvy power users who want a totally customized desktop that runs better and doesn’t have to go through a VPN, with its inherent connection problems. We’ve worked very hard to raise our user satisfaction levels over the past couple of years, so keeping satisfaction up is job one for us. Right behind it, though, is the ka-ching, ka-ching – that is, the ability to show tangible savings in up-front capital costs, lower operating costs, and better manageability, as well as the ability to enable our already lean IT staff to do more. 

For us, the combination of VMware View and Unidesk is right on the money.

Raechelle Clemmons is Chief Information Officer at Menlo College in Atherton, California. Prior to joining Menlo, Raechelle was the Director of IT Relationship Management and Project Services at California State University, East Bay. Raechelle is a 2009 Frye Leadership Institute Fellow. She holds a bachelor's degree in political science, with an option in public affairs and administration, from Cal State East Bay, and is ITIL v.3 Foundations certified. Follow Raechelle Clemmons on Twitter or read her blog.

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