Citrix shop offers tips for virtual desktop pilots

 SANTA CLARA, Calif. To ensure a successful desktop virtualization pilot, one San Jose, Calif.-based school district advises IT shops to hold back on the software updates to focus their users solely on the benefits of the technology itself.
Charles Kanavel, director of technology at the Campbell Union High School District, said his school district is one of the largest XenDesktop and XenServer implementations in the Bay Area. 

The district serves seven high schools with 9,000 students and 750 staff members. Kanavel’s small, seven-person IT shop manages about 2,500 desktops with 1,000 of those devices being connected remotely from the homes of students and faculty.

For Kanavel, the key to building momentum for the project among end-users was to make the shift as seamless as possible. “On the technical side, users only have to see the doors,” he said. “We see the hallways.”

For example, if a staff member was still using Windows XP or an older version of Office on their physical desktop, Kanavel would avoid upgrading the software when giving them a virtual instance.

“This helps them focus on the new benefits of the technology,” he said, as opposed to stressing the user when learning an upgraded piece of software.

Delivering a successful desktop virtualization experience to end-users in the early stages of your project, he said, is the only way to ensure you can keep growing with the technology.  And the same lessons could be transferred to gaining more corporate buy-in.

Harry Labana, Citrix Systems Inc.’s chief technology officer for desktop and application virtualization, said the decision to embrace desktop virtualization and become a services-oriented company has to start with IT leaders thinking in business terms.

“If it’s an IT geek conversation, you’re going to come up with 50 answers that don’t achieve very much,” he said. Labana added that traditional IT people want to turn desktop virtualization into a PC upgrade project as opposed to a strategic business decision.

At his district, Kanavel has followed Labana’s advice, approaching the project with the goal of saving money and driving new learning opportunities.

Using Xen app delivery technologies, Kanavel’s school district has been able to not only save on the replacement and refresh cycles of its physical desktops, but also drastically alter the school’s curriculum.

Students now have access to specialized software such as Adobe’s suite of imaging software and Autodesk’s AutoCAD product on their home PCs or tablets, which means teachers are no longer limited in the types of projects they can assign.

Instead of building bridges with Popsicle sticks for 20 minutes, Kanavel said, teachers can now assign longer and more interesting engineering challenges.

Of course, delivering a more flexible desktop experience also has its side effects for IT. One potential pitfall to look out for, Kanavel said, can be found during the patching stage. During one patch upgrade to Office 2010 and Windows 7, Kanavel’s team failed to reactivate the software after rolling out the virtual image.

That meant “thousands of people saw the mistake” and were being prompted to reactivate their software.

Another area to look out for is network utilization, he said. Before pushing out virtual desktops, Kanavel only had to be concerned about the network during school hours. The situation changed after the switch to desktop virtualization, which now brings heavy traffic into the network after the dinner hour all the way to midnight.

Kanavel said both of these potential issues can easily be dealt with, but require IT organizations to take extra time planning patches and monitoring network usage.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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