Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine

Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine: Unidesk Manages Away VDI Complexity

The VDI architect at Alabama's newest medical college explains how Unidesk, Citrix XenDesktop, and Dell have enabled an all-virtual desktop environment that maximizes IT efficiency and user mobility.

Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine

"If you're struggling with separate desktop provisioning, application virtualization, image management, personalization, disk space reduction, and desktop support tools -- stop. Just go get Unidesk. All of your management issues will be solved."

Jonathan Hataway
Infrastructure Engineer, Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine

Q&A with Jonathan Hataway, Infrastructure Engineer, ACOM

The press release and webinar on the use of Citrix, Dell, and Unidesk technology at Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM) caught the attention of several important IT news publications and virtualization thought leaders. ZDNet wanted to know more about ACOM's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) project. So, they interviewed ACOM Infrastructure Engineer Jonathan Hataway.

Here is what Jonathan said. The full interview can be found in the story "Alabama college picks Unidesk to manage VDI complexity."

Please introduce yourself and your organization.

My name is Jonathan Hataway, and I'm an Infrastructure Engineer at Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), based on Dothan, Alabama. We're proud to be the first osteopathic medical college in the state, opening our doors to our first students in August 2013. The college was started to address the shortage of primary care physicians in Alabama and to develop more of the state's own young people into practicing doctors. We're the academic division of the Houston County Health Care Authority and affiliated with Southeast Alabama Medical Center (SAMC) in Dothan, a 420-bed regional medical center. SAMC serves more than 600,000 residents in a 75-mile radius and has more than 2,500 employees and an active medical staff of 300.

What were you doing that needed this type of technology?

Our goal at ACOM is to educate and prepare our students for successful careers in osteopathic medicine. To do that, we need to offer the most innovative learning environment possible. We saw virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) as the opportunity to offer a more mobile, collaborative computing experience and a higher standard of learning compared to traditional PCs, and one that would support the growing BYOD trend, since many of our incoming students already have a mobile device of some kind. We also felt that VDI would reduce the time and effort our small IT staff would have to spend on desktop and application management.

What products did you consider before making a selection?

When you look at VDI, there are a lot of moving parts - storage, hosts, hypervisor, management tools, broker, end user devices. We looked at all of them. We use a lot of Dell infrastructure, so that was a pretty fast decision. We settled on Citrix XenDesktop as our broker because we felt HDX had the best protocol performance for our field users.

The real challenge was management. We looked at the separate provisioning, image management, app delivery, disk space reduction, and personalization tools that come with the brokers and found them too limiting and too complex. We looked at using application streaming to publish apps to our virtual desktops, but some of our apps didn't perform well with that method and the packaging process wasn't exactly easy. We looked at building apps into our Windows image, but we would need a lot of images to meet our users' diverse app requirements, and we didn't want to be patching Windows more than once. We learned about Unidesk and its layering technology and that pretty much solved all of these issues.

Why did you select this product?

We needed to satisfy two fundamental requirements. The first was how to give our users a high performance virtual desktop experience that was as good if not better than a local PC, even when they were accessing their desktops from remote field locations.

The second was how to make life easy for our IT staff so we could deliver apps and app updates quickly, and spend as little time as possible patching Windows and fixing broken desktops. With only six IT people handling all infrastructure, applications, and support, we have to be as efficient as possible.

Citrix XenDesktop and NetScaler have really done the job when it comes to desktop connectivity and access. Our third- and fourth-year students are in the field instead of in classrooms, and many students and faculty want to work from home or wherever else is most convenient. XenDesktop with the HDX protocol and NetScaler for load balancing and application acceleration have delivered the performance we were hoping for from VDI. Even high-definition video is working well in the training labs.

On the management side, Unidesk has been our gift to ourselves in IT. Unidesk's whole layering approach to desktop management makes it easy to customize any of our 400+ persistent virtual desktops with any application we need. We have one gold OS layer of Windows 7 that serves as the base layer for every desktop. Then we layer on our apps. We've packaged Adobe Pro, Visual Studio, Office 2013, Autodesk Viewer 2014, Ellucian PowerCampus, TurningPoint Student Clicker, Google Picasa, Avigilon Control Center, and many other apps as separate layers. Most took only a few minutes. Then we just select which app layers we want on each desktop. It's that easy.

Unlike traditional application virtualization, which isolates apps in their own protective bubbles, Unidesk's layered apps look as if they're locally installed. We don't have to worry about grouping them together or whether the apps will interoperate. We just drop them in a layer (virtual disk - VMDK in our VMware environment), assign as many layers as we need to each desktop, and let Unidesk merge all the layers together so Windows sees a unified C: drive.

What tangible benefits have you gotten through the use of this product?

Our end users tell us they love having 24x7 access to their Windows desktops and apps from any location and any BYOD device. We feel this gives us a competitive edge by helping us attract new students to the university. It also helps us pull in top-notch faculty and staff.

On the management side, everything is just a lot easier with Unidesk. Any of our IT staff, even those who aren't that technical, can fill in and manage our VDI environment with Unidesk. We're on our way to 700+ desktops, and it won't require any more effort than it's taking to manage our 400+ now. We only have one clean layer of Windows to patch. Any app can be packaged and delivered to any number of desktops in minutes. Application updates only have to be performed once. We can fix broken desktops with layer rollback.

Even storage is reduced by about 70 percent because the layers are shared across many desktops, so we get much greater density on our Dell EqualLogic arrays. The speed with which we can update and create new desktops blows our users away. Because IT is more efficient, we can spend our time on other things that benefit the college.

What advice would you offer others facing similar challenges?

Everyone thinks VDI is complex, takes a long time to rollout, and requires advanced skillsets to manage. And that you can't deliver a PC-like user experience if you have demanding application or video requirements. As we've proven here at ACOM, neither is true. You just need to pick the right technologies.

Citrix XenDesktop and NetScaler on Dell infrastructure is delivering a great end user experience, which will be even better once we add NVIDIA GRID cards.

And if you're struggling with application virtualization, image management, personalization, disk space reduction, and desktop support tools -- stop. Just go get Unidesk. All of your management issues will be solved.

Deployment Details

  • Application Management
  • EUC Platform
    Citrix XenDesktop
  • Storage
  • Server
  • Users
  • Application Layers
  • More Info
  • 1 Windows 7 OS layer - no images
  • Key apps layered by Unidesk - Adobe Pro, Visual Studio, Office 2013, Autodesk Viewer 2014, Ellucian PowerCampus, TurningPoint Student Clicker, Google Picasa, Avigilon Control Center

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