Golden VDI images are a powerful tool for implementing multiple virtual desktops based on a singular, basic image. This strategy streamlines management, ensures a consistent user experience with each login, and guarantees compliance with company security and regulations: all virtual desktops derived from the image are identical and comply with the policy.

Typically, virtual desktops are delivered to users non-persistently, meaning that any changes (user profiles, installed applications, configuration adjustments) vanish upon VDI restart. Therefore, it is vital to have a robust user profile solution. For those machines delivered persistently (such as those used by developers), a writable clone of the golden image can be created. From then on, all changes, including security updates, configuration adjustments, and new applications, are implemented within this new branch.

Essential Elements of Your Golden Image A golden VDI image comprises the Windows OS and patches, plus a minimum set of configurations, optimizations, and applications. Only those configurations and optimizations needed before the computer boots should be included in the golden image. All others can be incorporated into Group Policies. As for applications, it’s best to focus on the 10-15 most frequently used ones, to avoid bloating the image and making it cumbersome to manage. Application virtualization can be deployed for the less commonly used applications.

The applications installed into my image include:

  • Windows OS (obviously)
  • .NET framework Visual C++ Redistributables (all supported versions; refrain from installing outdated versions due to potential security risks)
  • Broker agent (e.g., Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops or VMware Horizon View)
  • Virus Scanner
  • Applications used by over 75% of the user community. These usually include:
    • Microsoft Office
    • Web Browsers of your choice (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Edge Chromium, Brave)
    • Adobe Reader
    • Java Runtime
    • Crucial business applications like SAP.
  • Less common applications can be delivered using a virtualization tool such as App-V, pending the arrival of MSIX as the new standard. Remember that with Windows 10, the enterprise version of App-V is included.

Building the Image

An Automated Approach Images can be managed using automation tools such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager (Formerly SCCM & Intune), Microsoft App-V, Ivanti Automation, Citrix App Layering, VMware App Volumes, or custom scripts. It’s essential to avoid manual handling as much as possible.

We’ve found that to maintain optimal performance and security for a golden image, it’s best to rebuild it monthly in an entirely automated process. We initiate this cycle each patch Tuesday, ensuring that the latest OS security patches are installed and no remnants of outdated app versions or obsolete software are included in the image. This approach guarantees minimal disk space usage and prevents the accumulation of older updates in the image, given Microsoft’s practice of cumulative updates.

Remember, keeping your users satisfied involves testing before deploying. With any automation tool, every golden image update applies to all virtual desktops. Consequently, it’s vital to rigorously test updated golden images before assigning them to production. Each implementation involves several phases, starting with the build, followed by IT testing by IT personnel, and finally, user acceptance tests by a small group of end users. Feedback is gathered at each phase and adjustments are made accordingly. Thorough testing is crucial for the success of a VDI project. It’s all too common for projects to be fast-tracked under time pressure, leading to skipped testing phases, which can have devastating consequences for users and the business.

With our well-tested monthly cycle, updating the underlying OS layer is a straightforward task, ensuring we continually deliver optimal golden images.

Continual Maintenance of the Golden Image

Following the building phase, the next critical step is maintaining your golden image. Given the rapidly evolving tech landscape, it’s essential to keep your image up to date with the latest versions of applications, security patches, and system optimizations. However, as you make these updates, it’s vital to manage the image’s size, ensuring it remains lean and agile.

Our monthly rebuild cycle helps us achieve this balance. By beginning this cycle on each patch Tuesday, we ensure that our golden image stays at the forefront of security and performance. This process also guarantees that no obsolete software or outdated app versions remain within the image, contributing to a lean and efficient system. Moreover, the regularity of this cycle allows us to handle underlying OS layer updates with minimal disruption.

User Feedback and Iterative Improvement

The key to successful golden image management isn’t just in the building and maintaining – it’s in the feedback and iterative improvements. Following the deployment of an updated golden image, we solicit feedback from users to understand their experiences and any potential issues. This feedback forms an invaluable part of the improvement process, informing the adjustments we make in the next cycle.

Beyond user feedback, it’s crucial to monitor performance metrics. Keep an eye on things like load times, responsiveness, and error rates. If there’s a spike in any of these areas following an update, it could indicate a problem with the new image. Early detection and resolution of these issues will help maintain user satisfaction and system performance.

Adapting to Evolving Technologies and Trends

In the dynamic world of IT, the only constant is change. New technologies, software updates, security threats, and user requirements continuously emerge, requiring IT teams to adapt swiftly. As such, your golden image must not remain static. Rather, it needs to be versatile and flexible to accommodate these changes.

Automating the deployment and maintenance of your golden image can be a lifesaver in this regard. By incorporating AI and machine learning into your maintenance processes, you can predict and preempt potential issues before they become significant problems. You can also automate regular tasks like patching and updating, freeing up more time for your team to focus on other crucial areas.

Involving Your Team

The golden image building and maintenance process should be a collaborative effort involving not just your IT personnel but the entire team. Training your staff to understand the intricacies of the golden image, including its benefits and limitations, will create a more informed workforce and contribute to smoother operations. By fostering a culture of shared responsibility, you can ensure that all team members are invested in the success of your VDI environment.

Preparing for the Future

As we look to the future, technologies like cloud computing and AI will continue to shape the landscape of virtual desktop infrastructures. It’s crucial to stay ahead of the curve, understanding these trends, and incorporating them into your golden image strategy where applicable.

Expanding the Horizon: Integrating New Applications and Services

As businesses evolve, so do their needs. Over time, your organization might need to integrate new applications or services into your VDI environment. However, integrating new elements into your golden image should not be done haphazardly. Each application or service should be thoroughly tested to ensure compatibility and performance before adding it to the image.

In addition, consider the principles of application rationalization. This involves evaluating and streamlining the software applications within an organization to improve efficiency and reduce complexity. By regularly assessing the applications in your golden image, you can ensure that only the most valuable and frequently used apps are included, keeping the image lean and efficient.

Securing Your Golden Image

In the era of ever-increasing cyber threats, security is of utmost importance. Regular updates and patches are crucial to protect against vulnerabilities. Moreover, consider employing sophisticated security measures such as multi-factor authentication, encryption, and intrusion detection systems to bolster the security of your golden image. Keeping a keen eye on the latest security trends and threats can help you stay a step ahead of potential cyberattacks.

Continued Learning and Improvement

Building and maintaining a golden image is not a one-off task. It is a continuous process of learning and improvement. Keep abreast of the latest industry trends, attend webinars, and engage in IT communities to exchange insights and best practices. There is always something new to learn, and each piece of knowledge gained can help enhance the efficiency and reliability of your golden image.

In conclusion, the journey to creating and maintaining an optimal golden image is continuous and multifaceted. It involves a deep understanding of your business needs, careful planning, automation, security measures, user feedback, and above all, a commitment to continuous learning and improvement. But with these elements in place, you can ensure a high-performing, secure, and efficient VDI environment that enhances user experience and supports your business objectives.