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After Almost a Decade, Lessons from the VDI Frontier

Thinking it might be time to make the move to VDI?  A major healthcare company in Michigan has been using virtualized desktops for nearly a decade and learned plenty of valuable lessons along the way. 

Talk about being into something before it was fashionable. Metro Health, which operates more than a dozen well-regarded health care facilities in the Grand Rapids area, has been committed to VDI for nearly a decade -- which may well be longer than the acronym for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure has even been in widespread use.

Now in its fourth generation of VDI architectures, Metro Health has learned a thing or two about the right way to distribute desktops virtually in an enterprise. And one of the most important lessons its learned, said Aivars Apsite, technology strategist for the operation, involves what users see: That if VDI isn't properly scaled to provide acceptable graphics performance, the system will probably be given a failing grade by those using it to try to do their jobs.

Says Apsite, "We have been doing this since 2007, and we've learned that if you don't implement an infrastructure that handles graphics properly, that you will fail; that your system will not deliver the kind of experience that users demand."

A key element in delivering graphics performance at Metro Health has been a new breed of server products, like NVIDIA's GRID, that bring the advantage of desktop graphics processors to virtualized environments.

VDI Pioneers

Metro Health's early commitment to VDI was the result of a prescient "there has to be a better way" insight about delivering the desktop experience by its CIO, Bill Lewkowski. He was so committed to the virtual desktop concept that in the first few years, much of the virtualization software Metro Health used was developed in-house. Since then, it has relied on traditional vendors.

With everyone at Metro Health using a virtualized desktop, that adds up to 3,500 of what Apsite calls "end points." Nearly half of them are thin clients; 400 are laptops, and the rest are traditional PCs, all of them connecting into one of two separate Metro Health data centers. The VDI end points are used by the hospital's administrative staff and present in all of the wards.

Always on the Move

In fact, it was because of the need for doctors and nurses to be able to easily sign in and out of computer sessions as they traveled from patient to patient on a hospital floor that Metro Health got interested in VDI in the first place.

Many of Apsite's users are the sorts of medical professionals, such as radiologists and cardiologists, that most people associate with high-end graphics such as CT scans or an MRI.

But Apsite said he has also learned from experience that an ordinary Windows user with two monitors, each set to a screen resolution of 1920 by 1080, can put significant demands on a VDI system's graphics – even when running simple Windows applications with the graphics-intensive Aero user interface turned off.

Were the extra graphics processing not being handled by the NVIDIA GRID, it would fall back onto the server's CPUs, with performance taking a hit. As a result, Apsite said, "I do not draw a distinction between a power user, a knowledge worker and a task worker. Just opening a Web page or an Excel file can mean a pop in graphics utilization." Especially when 60% of his users have two or more screens at their desks.

Apsite said that fine-tuning the graphics performance of the Metro Health VDI was the last of the major items on his to-do list, and that the organization is now reaping the benefits of the technology.

Those advantages at Metro Health are the same as they are at the thousands of other locales that have adopted the technology; they include increased ease of administration, better control of data and improved support for mobile workers. "As far as VDIs are concerned, we are more than sold," Apsite said.

Bring the Power of VDI to Your Enterprise: HP and NVIDIA have partnered to enable a more productive mobile workforce through Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. In the past, jerky video or "click-and-wait" design files sometimes led to frustrated users and conclusions that VDI wasn’t yet ready for prime time. But with virtualized GPUs, now it is. Learn how the combination of HP ConvergedSystem graphics server blades and NVIDIA GRID virtual graphics technology can provide the richest visual experience at the right cost, for even the most demanding applications:


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