Healthcare IT Blog

Articles by Samuel Mata

Published on 08/12/2015 by Samuel Mata
Category: Healthcare IT, Virtualization, MEDITECH

Over the past few years, the approach to how we provide resources to our users has been changing.  VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) has slowly crept up to the top of many organizations’ priority lists and it is being widely embraced.  It is not difficult to understand why: VDI is a software solution that gives us the ability to create separation between the desktop environment and physical resources, allowing greater flexibility and efficiency in the workplace.  This flexibility and efficiency is particularly advantageous for the healthcare industry.  When we think of all the different benefits VDI provides the healthcare space, the reason VDI is a hot topic of discussion becomes clear.  As with anything new and exciting in technology, we must first consider what it takes to implement and how it will change the way we do things.

To fully reap the rewards of what VDI has to offer – namely enhanced data protection, improved IT efficiency, and a reduction of administrative and management tasks within your organization – proper planning is necessary for realization. 

Things to consider before starting any VDI deployment:

1.  Pre-Assessment: This is an important part of the planning phase for a VDI deployment.  If this is not correctly done, you may end up falling short on scoping hardware requirements.  It is important to define goals, assess needs, analyze delivery options, define users, and include users.  Will you have mobile users?  Does your current IT infrastructure support VDI?  Will you need to purchase additional resources?

a.  Memory: Unlike server applications that have short persistence (particularly in a service oriented based architecture) desktop applications are designed to load and stay loaded/running for hours. Paging can create non sustainable disk I/O.  Even if the users are running the same application they are more than likely not running the exact same copy. Therefore, we must consider a larger memory pool to hold as many machine images as possible.

b.  Storage: On a physical desktop, the client system usage is running on a single, dedicated device where collision would not happen.  When desktops are virtualized and hosted, the host system has to provide disk I/O for all virtual desktops (shared storage). This is why it is important to collect tasks times. If a group of users start the day at 8am, I/O can be impacted as these users all start tasks at the same time.  It is therefore critical to have efficient I/O and storage systems for the VDI implementation.  Solid State Drives are a great solution as they improve both memory and storage.  Improper storage planning can lead to a major bottleneck in your overall VDI design. 

c.  CPU: Calculating how many Virtual Machines (VMs) per host will depend on the host’s resources.  It is more likely to succeed if every server/host has several cores for utilization.  A VDI pre-implementation assessment can help determine the exact number of VMs per host for your environment.

d.  LAN: When desktops and users are located in the same physical facility, only LAN capacity will be taken into consideration.  If there are external users, other factors ought to be considered.  This might require upgrades to the environment in order to support the VDI deployment.  During this process, it is a good idea to consider the impact on network resources VDI might bring into the environment.

2.  User Experience: We must understand how your users will utilize the deployment.  Users are the reason we are going down this path and we want to make sure that your users have the best experience possible.  Even the best executed VDI project can suffer if it does not meet users’ expectations or needs.

a.  Collection: To achieve the best performance results in a VDI deployment, we must collect information including the number of users we are planning to support, the types of users, and the applications being used.  We should take time to understand how users log into and out of desktops.  From this information, we are able to clarify the types of users that we will be supporting within our environment and do some base calculations to determine resource consumption.

b.  Users: It is very important to define use cases for the project.  We cannot lump all users into one giant category.  We must understand what they do in order to provide them the best solution.  For example, we might have a specific group of users that are using software that has higher resource requirements.  If we just create one category of users, then we have to assign to all desktops the level of resources required to satisfy the highest performing desktops.  This results in a drastic over commitment of resources for some of the desktops on the lower end.

c.  Desktop Image: Virtual Desktops are very different from physical desktops. They live in a shared environment (resources are shared: Storage, CPU, and Memory).  The image must be optimized for the VDI deployment. If the desktop is not properly optimized, users will experience degraded performance. 

d.  Applications: There is a major difference between an everyday application and a specialist application.  It is not always a matter of resource quantity, but sometimes a matter of how that application uses those resources.  MEDITECH, for instance, leverages resources in a unique manner that is critical to understand for a VDI deployment.  Get to know the applications your users depend on so you can best prepare for what resources might be needed for each type of application.

3.  The Team: Putting together the right team for the task is highly important. VDI deployments require lots of planning and understanding of how users will utilize the technology.  It also requires them to understand what is needed for a successful deployment and the potential pitfalls that could arise if proper planning, testing, and documentation are not considered. Choosing the team that will lead the way for your VDI deployment should be thought out and might require you to bring in a third party to assist with the project. 

4.  Pilot Project: Skipping the pilot phase can cause you to have no clear view of potential risks, desired outcomes, or organizational objectives that need to be completed within a specified timeframe.  It is highly recommended that you run a pilot program and document the outcomes and/or changes that might be necessary for success.

Another consideration is bringing in a VDI expert to provide you the guidance needed to hit important objectives on your lists.  The expert may also ask questions you might not have considered.  Going to the cloud is also another viable option; the cloud can be a great way to offset costs associated with time and experience needed for a VDI deployment.  In short, it is only with careful planning that a VDI solution can reduce current costs and assist with growing demands in PC support. 

VDI is an exciting technology that can be adopted by an organization to provide extremely beneficial advantages.  The process of reaching your organizational goals can be a tedious one, but if done correctly, and with the right team, it will be well worth it in the end.  


Samuel Mata, EUC Architect