It’s Not About a Successful “Citrix” or “VDI” Deployment

I spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing Citrix, VMware, RDS, and other end-user computing topics with people from across the world.  It’s one of the things that gets me all warm and fuzzy, because there are a thousand different ways to do it and they range from strange to outright genius.  Inevitably, one thing that I see pop up in Citrix IRC conversations or other online forums is “How can I have a successful Citrix deployment?”  The intent of this question is good, but the approach, in my humble opinion, could use some tuning.  At the end of the day, your job isn’t to give Citrix money (though I’m pretty sure they won’t turn you down) but rather help your business run – the customers to get what they need, the engine that drives your business to move forward.  Delivering an excellent service ultimately is what will make your deployment of “Citrix” or “VDI” successful.  So what can you look for?

There are any number of ways to judge success, and I encourage you and your business to come up with the list that matters to you. Financials are always going to come into play, whether you’re a non-profit, education, or Fortune-500 – again, you’re not looking to give the vendors money for nothing – but I caution you from centering exclusively on that.  Think of ways to measure success that might not be as directly tangible, because having been a user on dozens of environments, I can tell you that one thing is key to productivity within your services:  user satisfaction. Time and again I’ve seen environments where users become distrustful of IT and a culture of distrust has been bred over years at a time.  Users are reluctant to report problems to the service desk, or they had a bad experience or a delay so they just no longer bother.  These types of cultural problems are extremely difficult to overcome!  Users are a fickle bunch – they may say nothing for the 1,000 days it runs perfectly but the day that they can’t run their report in the time they expect it, quite literally in the context of their world, may be the worst day of the their life.  As a system admin it is easy to fall into a routine and look at a grand scope across an entire environment and disregard “trivial” concerns.  You are setting yourself up for failure if you make a habit out of that.

What are some ways you can focus on user satisfaction?  It is important to be proactive, and more than just in the abstract.  Here are some ideas to help move towards greater user satisfaction and ultimately have a successful deployment.

Set time aside to periodically review your environment and take yourself through “a day in the life of a user”.

If possible, set some time up with some of your (least?) favorite employees in the company and just watch how they work.  Look at where they click, observe their behavior and get a read for where their frustrations are.  If you’re able to eliminate just one or two daily frustrations, you can make a tremendous impact in their perception.

Establish a baseline, and test against it

Citrix Director may leave something to be desired, but it is certainly improving.  If nothing else, the logon durations reported are a decent baseline indicator about how things are going.  Investigate aberrations in the baseline.  If necessary, use tools that can help identify the root cause and eliminate it.  Don’t be afraid to dive deep. Collect relevant logs, analyze and optimize!  Your users may not report an issue – if you wait until they complain you may already be too late!


Don’t Control the Message, Own the Message

Marketing is a wonderful thing.  However nary has a user ever said, “I sure do thank IT for forcing me to use this new system, it is so much better in my day to day life that I just accept this change unconditionally!”  Rather than attempting to force the winds of change on your users, as often as possible present them an enticing offer that makes them want to change.  No remote access VPN?  Well, dear user, let me introduce you to this shiny virtual desktop (or app) that is secure through NetScaler.  Need your PC but company policy prevents you from using VPN from your own machine or taking your laptop with you?  RemotePC has you covered.  Need an app installed but you don’t have admin privileges?  Why let me publish that to you! (This one is absolutely key – if you can publish the requested app do it *ASAP*.  It is huge for winning back some credibility for IT responsiveness).  If you can create an environment where users are asking you how they can get on this new shiny environment, you’’ll be in a much better position.

Don’t Forget the Basics

UCS is cool.  Citrix is sweet.  NetScaler can do amazing things.  We work with  such fantastic technology sometimes its easy to remember where users come from.  Make sure their basic needs are being met:  Can you do your job?  What do you want/need to do it better?  Do you have all the apps necessary?  Ask them!  Server-based computing relies on so many things going correctly that if something falls down, it has a long way to go.  Make sure they have what they need – from compute, I/O, memory, all the way through the application (and even political) layers.  Giving users the fastest system in the world doesn’t matter if you reset their profile twice a week (if you do this, by the way, please go to and get help – I’m a firm believer that profile resets need to just go away.  Something else is afoot!).  If you don’t give them adequate I/O or oversubscribe memory or CPU – or maybe try to stuff 50 users through a VPX 10 with the high definition user experience policy running, you are going to have a bad time.

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