13 August 2018

Automation Anywhere – integrating with a Virtual Desktop Interface(VDI)

The Thin Client – a workstation with no physical storage, no processor and no memory-hungry graphical operating system – basically a screen and keyboard accessing personal applications and data remotely – was touted widely in Information Technology for a long time, particularly by the late lamented Sun Microsystems, intent on breaking the WIntel control of the corporate desktop. Arguably it became a widespread reality because of the high-speed internet and Cloud technologies.

For corporates, the benefits are compelling – massive savings in environmental and maintenance costs, and huge increases in flexibility, with employees able to re-create their workstations anywhere they can connect to the company network – at home, in departure lounges or hotels or in any hot-desk environment in any company office location. All of this while keeping data secure behind the corporate firewall, since only the user interface is rendered, providing no access to the underlying application, data, or user-interface objects.

These days it’s usually known as the Virtual Desktop Interface(VDI) or Virtual Desktop Environment, and major players include Citrix. Microsoft and VMWare.

Alongside the rise of VDIs has been the pervasive adoption of Robotic Process Automation(RPA), with Automation Anywhere the leading vendor. RPA delivers huge increases in efficiency and compliance and massive reductions in costs and human error, by automating human interaction with computer systems.

Most corporates therefore logically want to deploy both VDIs and RPA, but there have been issues around co-existence.

The Problem

In our experience Citrix is by far and away the most commonly-encountered VDI platform, and Automation Anywhere the most popular RPA platform. However, all leading RPA platforms have the same issues accessing virtual sessions, and we have worked with all leading VDI platforms, including Citrix, Microsoft RDP and VMWare Horizon.

The main areas of challenge when deploying and running RPA solutions in a large Citrix environment are:

  1. Automation Anywhere requires a dedicated desktop on which to deploy and run a robot, but is blind to Citrix desktops until they are established. The challenge is to automate spinning up Citrix desktops ready to receive the Robot workload.
  2. As deployed by most customers, VDI admin policy usually enforces desktop locking on idle nodes, and shutdowns with enforced reboots to clean up their environment.

So - an automation Catch 22; Automation Anywhere needs a dedicated vacant Citrix desktop, but this is anathema to VDI admin policy, which is dedicated to preventing such a thing happening.

Solutions are based around solving this stand-off.

Solutions

We find our customers prefer any of three potential solutions to this conundrum:

  1. Developing middleware which talks to both platforms, getting Citrix to spin up a VDI node on request, making the resultant node visible to Automation Anywhere and kicking off a software robot to use it.
  2. As an interim solution, deploying a team tasked with establishing and maintaining temporary VDI sessions which Automation Anywhere bots can use. It may seem a little strange to create new human roles in the deployment of software robots, but moving the human management to a new level is very much RPA best practice.
  3. Implementing techniques and code in Robots that can keep Citrix desktop sessions alive, and prevent automated lock outs.

Summary & Close

Consistent with our policy of flexibility and creating custom solutions tailored to each customer’s unique needs, Extra Technology is comfortable working with and deploying any of the above solutions. Our experience and expertise covers them all and combinations of them all.

With a solution in place, corporate customers can enjoy the virtualisation benefits of VDI as well as the efficiency benefits of RPA. If you’d like a no-obligation discussion about your precise environment and needs, please get in touch. Our contact details are below.

 

Antony

Antony Askew, Practice Manager at Extra Technology

Antony has worked for a number of prestigious financial services companies; additionally in the past he worked for CA Technologies and Platinum Technology supporting an EMEA wide customer base.

 
Adrian Woffenden

Adrian Woffenden, Senior Robotic Automation Consultant at Extra Technology

Adrian leads a team of RPA consultants and provides help and advice across a number of projects in diverse sectors, including Banking, Energy and Pharmaceutical.

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