[thanks to Tom Rose from Unidesk, with whom Menlo College works closely, for some editorial suggestions and cleanup]
There is a big difference between technology that you use as a tool, and one that becomes a foundation of how you get work done. A computer used to be a tool to access digital assets when needed. Now the only way we can be productive at all is to be at a workstation or on a laptop. We used to do searches for what restaurants are nearby and how to get from point A to point B, and now we would probably be lost forever without our smart phones.
I’ve had an experience like this recently, with our virtual desktops at Menlo College.
This has been my first exposure to a Virtual Desktop Implementation, commonly referred to as VDI. Here at Menlo, the desktops being served by the installation are also called VDIs (our VDI system supplies users with their VDI desktops). For the tech-heads, our implementation is based on VMware View (as compared to Citrix or Microsoft’s VDI/Hyper-V) with Unidesk to provision and manage our desktops. Unidesk allows us to build applications in layers which we can basically mix and match as we wish. Then View delivers that customized desktop to the user or lab.
It’s took the first 7 months of my time here, but I’ve made it through that paradigm shift, from seeing VDI as something “on the side” to relying on VDI as the a core component of how I work. Without VDI, I would not be able to do my job.
When I arrived at Menlo, I had a laptop docked and connected to all my peripherals and powering two 22″ displays. I had a VDI allocated to me, but I connected very, very rarely and only via the software client on my laptop. So I was using my full-featured laptop to connect only as-needed to my VDI.
Later on, just to test our new VDI build (we upgraded throughout Fall 2012 and Spring 2013) and some new software (Office 2013), I had a Samsung All-In-One 22″ thin client (over which I actually prefer a standalone client) installed in my office. This was in addition to my laptop.
Because Office is an everyday application, I was on the VDI fairly often. Rather than spin my chair around and around to use both my VDI for Office but my laptop for everything else, I would slowly start using the VDI for email, calendaring, and creation of documents – not just testing Office, but using it. I added some more applications, and eventually found myself with a VDI desktop that did everything my laptop could.
Then, around early April, 7 months in, I was in a meeting, with my laptop, and realized that what I needed was a file I still had open on my VDI. So I connected, again from the client software on my laptop but this time stayed in the VDI the whole time. I was now using the laptop merely as an interface.
One particularly important aspect of doing this was that even though I was connecting from my laptop in the meeting room and a thin client from my office, it was still the same VDI. I wasn’t running two different desktops. I was connecting to the same exact one. If I disconnected in my office and then connected in a meeting room, everything comes up just as it was before. I am not restarting. I am not logging off. There is virtually no lag before I’m up and running again, right from where I left off.
Later that week I purchased a 10″ tablet (VMware View runs on both iOS and Android), gave my laptop up to one of my staff, and haven’t looked back. My main workstation is now the same two monitors but this time connected to a thin client not much bigger than a cable modem that offers audio, high quality dual output video, and even USB device support (including my web cam, though it’s choppy sometimes and can’t do HD).
When I’m in a meeting, I often do take notes in the cloud (Google Keep, usually) but have my VDI running just in case I need to jump over and access my more extensive materials in Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is an incredibly feature-rich, designed-for-notetaking application that I’ve been using since it came out. And it doesn’t run on iOS or Android and I’ve struggled with that incompatibility for years, but it does on my VDI. When I am at home, I use my desktop and connect to my VDI.
I don’t do any Menlo work outside of my VDI.
I am now “livin’ la VDI loca.” It is an integral, almost inseparable part of how I get work done, not just a tool for getting onto our campus network or for access to a restricted resource. It empowers me to use my personalized work environment from anywhere, as long as I have an internet connection.
I did eventually get an ultrabook laptop, by the way, because there are of course some times when I am not on the internet. But I haven’t bothered to personalize it beyond the basics. Because now the laptop is just a tool, just a way for me to connect to my real workspace, my VDI.