Welcome to the Huntzinger Tech Blog. Our goal is to provide some insights and perspectives on various technical topics that CTOs, IT directors, and other healthcare IT professionals deal with from a technical infrastructure perspective.
This month we will be covering virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) – a very broad topic that can mean a lot of different things depending on the environment and use cases involved. Software from VMware, Citrix, Microsoft, and others have allowed IT departments to explore different ways to present a virtual desktop environment. VDI can mean everything from Windows OS running a full desktop environment served to a zero client, to an auto-logon PC that uses a local OS but launches directly into a Citrix XenDesktop environment. As the options for VDI or desktop virtualization have expanded, the way you can choose to implement these technologies is as limitless as your potential use cases. So how do you know where to start?
Several environments that I have worked in had staff look at VDI with a more traditional view. That means a bunch of servers (we’re talking a LOT of servers) that push out a full OS to every thin-client workstation. While that is one option, most healthcare environments have different needs that span across the various clinical, administrative, and knowledge worker setups. There is seldom a one-size-fits-all approach, especially within healthcare. Because of that, I think a great place to start is to ask yourself (or your team) what problem are you trying to solve with a VDI implementation?
Some of the successful reasons I have seen organizations move forward with VDI include:
- Ease of End-User Support. For most of our environments, a clinical workstation on 7 West looks a lot like (probably identical) to a clinical workstation on 5 East. Because of the near uniformity of these clinical workstations, having a centralized system that is remotely managed can potentially reduce the amount of time spent troubleshooting at the device layer. If something isn’t working, simply swap out a new piece of hardware, boot it up, and you are back in business. For larger environments, the time and cost savings adds up quickly.
- Security. Need to patch 5,000 devices every second Tuesday of the month? Sure, you can remotely push out that patch to all 5,000 devices and hope that all of them install as they should – before an end user clicks on some malware that takes your network down. Or, you can patch one master image and deploy it to all 5,000 devices at the next login. The ease of managing security is tremendous, but it is also important that patching your VDI images guarantees that all 5,000 devices are covered. Not 4,998 or 4,999, but all 5,000.
- Growth. Many healthcare organizations are going though periods of rapid growth or merger/acquisition activity. A successful VDI environment will allow your organization to quickly deploy your corporate standards to these new or acquired organizations.
- Standardization. I have never been a fan of standardization for the sake of standardization, but both your IT department AND your end users gain by having a uniform computing environment.
All of this sounds great, right? Why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, a lot of organizations are. Many organizations that had success virtualizing their server environments saw the opportunity (and had the internal expertise) to start deploying some variation of VDI in specific areas. For others, a common barrier is often the potential upfront costs. I say “potential” because some of the biggest licensing costs (e.g., OS, Citrix, and VMware, depending on what type of VDI deployment you go with) you may already own. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to get around the necessary compute and storage needs, so there is likely going to be some type of investment required. This cost is heavily driven by the level of redundancy required by the organization across data centers. To offset those data center hardware costs the funding typically comes from, or is offset by, desktop hardware (e.g., having to purchase less frequently, having to purchase less robust devices, or often a combination of these two). Often, organizations will consider the cost avoidance of cyberattacks from day zero vulnerabilities with the ability to quickly deploy patches or react to security events. There is also soft dollar costs and clinician satisfaction to consider, such as time savings gained through decreased logon times and roaming profiles, especially if bundled with single sign-on and badge-tap or biometrics.
One area that our clients have experienced successful VDI deployments is with an overall desktop modernization strategy. They typically take on VDI as part of a large device refresh or OS upgrade (think Win7 in the past or Win10 now) and use that planned effort as an opportunity to gain efficiencies and improve user satisfaction. For most end users, an OS upgrade has limited value and is more of an inconvenience than anything else. But add in some time savers, like single sign-on and badge-tap capabilities, and suddenly this large work effort has some tangible benefits for our customers. Plus, to make things easier on the IT budgets, some of the associated VDI costs are offset against potentially not having to replace every device because the required desktop specs aren’t as great for a VDI deployment as a full Win10 install. This type of project also has the added benefit of simplifying the way our desktop teams support the end user. Instead of spending an extensive amount of time trying to troubleshoot a local desktop issue, the solution with VDI can often be as easy as either rebooting or replacing the device. Those time savings add up to significant productivity gains not just for the IT staff, but also for the clinical teams who spend less time working around devices that are out of service while being repaired.
So where does that leave us? If you aren’t up to speed on how VDI has evolved and how it may be of use within your environment, now is probably a good time to get caught up. This isn’t the cutting-edge world that it was just 10 years ago. VDI technology has matured to the point where it is being adopted by more organizations as they see the benefits that it can deliver. While VDI technology is not right for everyone, maybe at your next refresh cycle or budget planning this is something that might be worth consideration. If you have questions or comments, please share them below – I would love to hear from others who are pursing VDI deployments. If this is something where you just don’t know where to start, feel free to contact me and we can discuss how the team at Huntzinger can assist with the analysis.