Dayton Superior

Dayton Superior: Unidesk Provides Foundation for VDI Success

Global leader in concrete construction solutions deploys VDI with Cisco, Nimble Storage, Unidesk, and VMware to enhance application flexibility and put desktop management back in the hands of the help desk.

Dayton Superior

"With Unidesk, our help desk crew can handle everything - desktop provisioning, application delivery, patches, break/fix. It wasn't like that before. There was always something that would escalate. Best of all, we're getting that IT simplicity while giving our users a more customizable, personal desktop experience."

Jarod Whitaker
Senior Systems Administrator, Dayton Superior

A New End User Computing Foundation

Dayton Superior is one of the world's leading single source manufacturers of non-residential concrete construction accessory, chemical, forming, and paving products. Its concrete construction supplies are used in many well-known buildings, including the new World Trade Center Towers, the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Panama Canal, the Trump Ocean Club, the Fulfillment Center, and more than a million other structures around the world.

Manufacturing Dayton Superior's 17,000 products requires the talents of its dedicated employees, who rely on Windows desktops and applications to meet the quality and performance standards upon which the company's reputation has been built.

After years of publishing desktops through Windows terminal services, the growing demand for custom applications and user personalization and a desire to make remote desktop and application management easier and more efficient for IT led Dayton Superior to implement Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Today, the company has transitioned all 700 of its desktop users to VDI. The combination of Unidesk for desktop and application provisioning and management, Cisco UCS for desktop hosting, Nimble Storage for high-performance I/O, and VMware Horizon View for remote desktop connectivity is enabling Dayton Superior to achieve all of its end user computing objectives.

A state-of-the-art Innovation Center at the company’s corporate headquarters in Miamisburg, Ohio and VDI are two examples of how Dayton Superior uses leading-edge technology to more quickly assess, evaluate, prototype and launch new products and ultimately create a competitive edge for its customers.

Building to Fit

With more than 30 locations around the world, Dayton Superior made the decision many years ago to centralize its desktops using traditional server-based computing. Comments Senior Systems Administrator Jarod Whitaker, "The break/fix alone would have been a major cost for us if we had gone with traditional PCs, not to mention all of the imaging, patching, and application delivery challenges."

However, traditional server-based computing wasn't without its own issues. Adds Whitaker, "Even with centralized desktops, we had a lot of escalations from our help desk. It was always something. We wanted to get to the point where they could handle day-to-day desktop and application administration without involving myself and the rest of the senior IT staff, who all wear many hats."

End user expectations had also changed over the years. A more technology-savvy workforce wanted to customize their desktops with their own personal apps and settings - just like their own computing devices. Sharing the same Windows instance was no longer acceptable.

Says Whitaker, "The problem with terminal servers is they are very locked down. You can only install so many apps. We had a number of users who wanted a PC or laptop just so they could run one or two apps. We didn't want to end up with a mix of fat and thin clients. We wanted one model that would satisfy both the IT requirement for greater simplicity, and the end user requirement for greater app flexibility and customization. All signs pointed to VDI with Unidesk."

Unidesk for VDI Management

Dayton Superior discovered Unidesk as they were searching for VDI management solutions. Comments Whitaker, "Layering was an approach we hadn't heard of, but as we looked closer, we saw that it solved all of the problems we had seen in VDI with application delivery, profiles, provisioning, and images. Plus it was so simple, we'd be able to put administration back in the hands of our help desk."

The IT team started by importing a clean Windows 7 gold image to serve as their OS layer - the read-only virtual disk upon which all 700 desktops are built. Every Patch Tuesday, the latest Windows hot fixes and updates are installed one time to create a new version of the OS layer. Unidesk updates all desktops overnight by merging in the new version. Unlike traditional patching tools, no installs are needed, and patches can be "undone" at any time by simply reverting back to an earlier version of the OS layer.

Next, the team layered Microsoft Office, AutoCAD, SOLIDWORKS, Fixed Assets, Chrome, Epicor ERP, Java apps, Acrobat, Flash, custom SQL and programming tools, and IT tools as their own app layers - nearly 30 in all. The app layers are assigned in various combinations to desktops with a few clicks in the Unidesk Edit Desktop wizard. Like with the OS layer, no installations are needed, yet the apps appear locally installed, even though the virtual disks that represent each layer are actually shared by many virtual desktops.

Each user is allocated a 5 GB personalization layer - a writable virtual disk that stores all customizations. The personalization layer eliminates the need for profile management, while offering the added benefit of saving one-off applications. Explains Whitaker, "We let users install anything that doesn't require admin rights, such as toolbar preferences or Chrome plug-ins. For one-off apps like our Business Intelligence reporting tools, the helpdesk logs in to the user's desktop and does the install for them. Feedback from the users has been great. They feel like they finally have their own desktop that's truly theirs."

Whitaker reports that Unidesk has reduced login times from 45 seconds to less than 10. "We had tried a few different profile managers before with mixed results. It could be slow depending on the type of data the user had, since the profile had to be reloaded at each login. Now with Unidesk persistent desktops, the personalization layer is combined with the OS and app layers pre-boot, so everything is already there."

Cisco, Nimble and VMware for VDI Compute, Storage and Connectivity

Dayton Superior's many years of experience with server-based computing made them realize that their success with VDI would hinge upon other critical components.

  • Cisco UCS is the server platform. 7 UCS blades each host about 100 desktop VMs, with headroom for growth. Each blade also hosts a Unidesk CachePoint appliance, which caches the virtual disk layers and enables desktops to be built and updated in parallel.
  • A Nimble Storage CS220 flash-optimized hybrid storage array hosts all 700 Unidesk-provisioned persistent desktops on less than 6 TB of storage. Without Unidesk's space efficiency, 700 full clone persistent desktops would require more than 19 TBs of storage. The use of flash by the Nimble cache architecture maximizes desktop I/O to provide a high performance user experience.
  • VMware Horizon View is used for desktop connectivity, supporting the HP t310 zero clients and re-purposed PCs that are used in the Dayton Superior offices, as well as the home PCs, iPads, and other devices that are used outside of work. Says Whitaker, "In our testing, we found the View client for the iPad ran the best and required the least user training, which was an important consideration for us."

The Finished Product

Dayton Superior's VDI deployment started in September 2014, with IT including themselves in the 100-user pilot. Says Whitaker, "We implemented IT first so we could eat our own dog food. My boss actually found the most bugs with our configurations, which made things go a lot smoother once we started taking it out to the business units."

Starting in January 2015, the company began rolling out 50-60 desktops per month, and quickened the pace until all 700 desktops were virtualized by the end of May. The project was marketed internally as "the new remote desktop that will run faster than your old one, and let you customize your user experience and access your desktop from any device."

With IT working out the kinks, the new benefits offered by VDI, and the seamless user experience provided by VMware View, garnering user acceptance was easy. Today, the majority of VDI users are located in Dayton Superior's offices in Miamisburg, Ohio; Elkgrove Village, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; San Antonio, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Kansas City, Kansas; and Rialto, California, with additional users in smaller branch offices such as Toronto, Canada; Bogota, Columbia; and Panama City, Panama.

Day-to-day management of VDI is handled by the help desk as originally hoped, thanks to Unidesk. Concludes Whitaker, "With Unidesk, our help desk crew can handle everything - desktop provisioning, application delivery, patches, break/fix. Best of all, we're getting that IT simplicity while giving our users a more customizable, personal desktop experience. Everyone wins."

Deployment Details

  • Application Management
  • Server
  • Storage
    Nimble Storage
  • EUC Platform
    VMware Horizon
  • Users
  • Application Layers
    30 Application layers, 1 Windows OS layer
  • More Info
  • Help Desk managing VDI
  • Key apps layered by Unidesk - Microsoft Office, AutoCAD, SOLIDWORKS, FixedAssets accounting, Epicor ERP, Java apps, Acrobat, Flash, SQL tools, in-house programming tools.
  • Storage space reduced from 19 TB to 6 TB with Unidesk layering

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