Head in the Clouds? DaaS and User Experience with Stratusphere UX

The move to virtual desktops, whether full on-premises VDI or a managed desktop as a service (DaaS) in the cloud, can be wrought with hidden challenges. Some of these challenges are technical, and some political; however, the result is the same: disruption, not meeting user expectations and greater risk to user productivity. These challenges or head-in-the-cloudsvisibility gaps are amplified in larger environments as there are more fingers in the pie, often combined with distributed technical responsibilities.

Ultimately, the question you should be asking yourself is who owns accountability to the user experience. If delivered properly, the desktop or workspace should appear to be a consistent and familiar experience—regardless of whether it is delivered atop physical PCs, virtualized locally or delivered as a service in the cloud. But who gets the light shined on them when things go astray? Is it the desktop team? Perhaps the infrastructure folks who own the storage, servers and network are to blame? And in the case of DaaS, this demarcation becomes a lot more imprecise.

Avoid the Blame Game

The frustration we hear time and time again is who’s at fault. If VDI or DaaS is the last technology employed, it often gets the blame. And don’t discount people or organizational challenges; whereby user rebellion or office politics can be at play (see “Don’t Let Layer 8 or 9 Issues Stall Your Desktop Transformation Efforts”).

The lack of visibility and understanding of user experience challenges can be present regardless of the delivery approach or platform. For cloud and managed services, there are related issues that center around where lines of accountability should be drawn. And without a specific user experience SLA, it can be almost impossible to ensure you can measure, enforce and remediate these issues—even if you could draw appropriate lines between IT teams and find the true root cause.

To the Cloud, or Here on Prem

While these challenges are not unique to DaaS, they do muddy the waters when you attempt to draw the line of accountability? How do you navigate the challenges when your team points the finger at the service provider and the cloud folks claim it’s not their issue? I’ll present a number of common challenges we routinely face in the field. Some are related to infrastructure and delivery. Some are simply good practice and tasks that should be applied to any desktop. But all are challenges we routinely identify and help remediate with Stratusphere UX. In no particular order I present a list of common visibility challenges that can play a significant role in user experience.

Desktops are like closets. If you don’t clean them out every once and a while they are wildly inefficient. This goes for both physical as well as VDI desktops delivered on-prem or via DaaS. We recently supported a client that was ready to dump their cloud infrastructure partner. After pointing out they had 150+ desktops that had not been rebooted in over 8 months, it became clear there was an easier solution. Please reboot your physical, persistent and non-persistent pools, people.

Speaking of persistent desktops, and I promise not to get into a religious or political debate. Why do so many IT Pros insist on employing old-school approaches to managing desktop patches on new-school architectures like DaaS. I’m talking about Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). I understand it’s the way you’ve always done it, but that does not make it correct. Tool choice aside, we met with another customer recently that had SCCM patches not being applied to their cloud-based desktops. Needless to say, they were not performing well. Worse still, the customer’s IT admins insisted it was due to the cloud infrastructure not performing as promised.

User tiering and memory allocation are another core theme and visibility gap area we often encounter. When moving to DaaS (or moving a physic PC to VDI) it is critical that you understand metrics such as memory and what is consumed by users and user groups. On the one hand you could under-provision, placing power users into a smaller memory footprint than required. These users will never be happy as their VMs will constantly page to disk. On the other hand, over-provisioning means wasted resources. And an elusive ROI that will never be realized as you are over paying for VMs.

Getting video, audio, keyboard and mouse signals from here-to-there is another area we see in the field. It may be PCoIP, ICA/HDX or RDP. Regardless of the flavor, poor user experience can be traced to the display protocol. Understanding the network, and how your display protocol behaves when constrained is key to tuning and optimizing its performance. Would you be surprised to learn it was your wide area network provider that was to blame?

I speak with a lot of folks in the desktop space. IT admins who have lived and breathed Microsoft Active Directory as a domain service and object store to manage user group policy, profiles and settings. I can say with some authority, I have not met many who like it (sorry Microsoft). And when you drag this 1999 technology in to the VDI and DaaS world, you should not be surprised to learn it does not perform much better. Poor AD, Domain Controllers and GPO will reap havoc on virtual desktop performance–even on the best sized and tiered environments. This cornerstone of the Microsoft world is the Achilles heel of next generation workspace delivery.

Related to group policy and directory services is machine boot and login process. Crazy fast cloud infrastructure can only go so far to smooth over the cracks in a poorly understood and horribly performing login process. Being able to gain visibility into the machine boot, and gain an understanding of the login process steps will go a long way to shining the accountability spotlight in the right direction. I’ll give you a hint; I have almost never seen an issue related to login that was traced back to DaaS or VDI as a root cause.

Image is everything. Of course, I’m talking about your master desktop image. Including flying toasters in your DaaS desktop image is, well, silly. Pushing the same image to everyone—regardless of what they consume—is just plain wasteful. We worked at length with a customer who had not included the proper PCoIP components in their base image. The images installed and all seemed well on the DaaS platform, but the desktops were not accessible from their thin clients. Understanding what your users need, and building the appropriate image, is very important.

In addition to understanding what they need, you should also have a good handle on when they need it. In the spirit of cloud, concurrency and resource utilization, it is important to understand when users require their workspaces. Provisioning and starting workspaces in the AM, only to have them sit idle all day does not make you a very good resource consumer. Being able to identify workers who are not using their workspace is one side of this exercise, but right-sizing your pool and workspace count is another—whether you are paying by the month, by the CPU cycle, or by the named user. Understanding your actual consumption is key to maximizing your ROI.

It’s Not VDI, It May Be You

I often hear seasoned IT organizations lament about VDI and DaaS. How it does not work, or it’s not delivering on all promises. I bite my tongue, and simply say VDI may not be to blame. Many of the issues and challenges noted above are key contributors to a poorly-performing DaaS or on-prem VDI platform. Due to the nature of Liquidware Labs solutions, we are often called upon to help diagnose and remediate these complex environments. Often, it is not the core VMware, Citrix or DaaS platform that is to blame.

More often than not, it is a tangential issue that is the cause(s.) Similarly, before you point the finger at your cloud provider, be sure to understand the contributing and supporting components and how they can affect your overall user experience. Stratusphere UX is a solution designed for one thing—understanding the user experience and all that contributes to it. Regardless of platform, infrastructure or Windows delivery approach, Stratusphere UX can help you quantify, trend and optimize the user experience. Drop me a note. I’d love to hear about other things that have contributed negatively to your user experience.

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