Assessing Your Network: VDI and the WAN Dilemma

When determining whether or not your organization is ready for VDI, one of the four key considerations you need to take into account is network readiness. VDI solutions require a near real-time transfer of packets across the network as end users interact with the virtual desktop on servers that are typically in a data center at another location.

But the user experience can be impacted by your network’s performance in three key ways: bandwidth, quality (packet delivery) and, for WANs, latency. This is because, while VDI can be of great benefit to your organization, it can and will also highlight any deficiencies or limitations in your network architecture – just like any other cloud-based service.

Location, Location, Location

Bandwidth and packet delivery requirements are network variables that can be met through service level agreements from carriers and most ISPs. With latency issues, however, there is no SLA-based workaround. It’s simply a matter of physics, as defined by the round-trip distance from the user to the servers that house the virtual desktop.

So when examining your own network for potential latency pitfalls, a good place to start is the physical location of your users, as well as the data center that will house VDI servers. Then, you can estimate expected latency by comparing your locations to the latency figures published by carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon.

Assessing Your Network

To validate that your network is ready for VDI, it will not be enough to have a single instance of network assessment prior to implementation. You will need to be proactive with robust network monitoring and reporting tools in place. And for those locations where you do anticipate latency (at threshold that is still acceptable for VDI), you should continue to monitor your network to ensure that you are getting the expected performance.

The other thing to keep in mind is that some applications are more forgiving of network latency than others. For example, word processing is latency-tolerant, whereas video streaming applications are not. Keeping application usage in mind is critical when determining acceptable network performance.

However, if you later find you are not getting the network performance you had anticipated, take a close look at network architecture and routing; faulty switches and routers, indirect routing or multiple network hops can often be the culprit. In addition, check in with your carrier or ISP to ensure they are delivering the expected performance.

Alternative Options for VDI

It’s important to note that VDI will not work for everyone in your organization, due to network access, application suitability, as well as a variety of other reasons. (Your business case should take this into account.) For remote locations where the network performance is limited but the use case is strong for VDI, a VDI Branch Appliance may be a more appropriate solution.