Thoughts on Virtual Desktops: Put the User First

Virtualization has been a hot topic in IT over the past few years, and much of the discussion is around server vs. desktop virtualization and how it all works together.

We just finished passing around a book written by Michael Fox in 2010 called DeMystifying the Virtual Desktop: Starting with Desktop virtualization. It was fantastic. Fox raises a number of interesting points, and one in particular really hit home with us.

Right off the bat Fox discusses how important the end user at an organization is when it comes to deciding to switch to virtual desktops – and how sometimes they are forgotten in the grand scheme of strategic IT infrastructure planning. While CEOs and CIOs think about the bottom line, the users – who are both people and employees – ultimately determine how successful the organization will be based on their productivity.

In thinking about “end users,” many current solutions involve desktop PCs or laptops with generic applications, perhaps some cloud/SaaS applications such as Salesforce, and some common settings. These solutions are developed with the idea that many users are the same. Virtual desktops can mimic these basic setups, often at a fraction of the total cost.

In thinking about end users as “people,” Fox stresses that we should take the time to think about how individual users – no matter their job role – have differences: Different screen resolutions, different hours sometimes, different color variations on monitors. Maybe some people would want to work from home, but cannot due to financial constraints of setup and deployment. Virtual desktops could make working from home very easy and inexpensive, but also allow the flexibility to change 1,000 users’ settings or just one person’s settings very quickly and from the same one place.

In thinking about end users as “employees,” Fox notes that employees have standards – and that they need to be taken into consideration. Organizations should ask their employees what applications are fast or slow. What software would they like to use? What IT brands would they use at home? The wrong virtual desktop deployment could erase years of training and familiarity that could produce unhappy, inefficient works producing less on a day-to-day basis.

We like Fox’s ideas around thinking about the user first when it comes to considering virtual desktop deployments. With all the tremendous cost, security, and manageability benefits of desktop virtualization, it’s no wonder why some many companies are making the switch from desktop PCs. At the end of the day keeping the user in mind – and their preferences – is key.

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