Virtual desktops: A server admin’s guide

Virtual desktops can solve some specific IT problems, but it’s a very different game than server virtualization. We break down desktop virtualization technology and its use cases.

Virtual desktops destroy the traditional computing model, in which every computer is a self-contained box. But

there are several different approaches to deploying and managing virtual desktops.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a popular technology that places operating systems, applications and user settings into virtual machines, stores them on centralized servers and makes them available to endpoints over a network. This approach to virtual desktops has several benefits, including improved security and management.

This guide offers a comprehensive look at VDI, desktop virtualization software and the role of virtual desktops within an enterprise. It also covers specific desktop virtualization products, including VMware View and Citrix Systems XenDesktop.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Virtual desktops and VDI overview  | Pros and cons of virtual desktops
Desktop virtualization software



VIRTUAL DESKTOPS AND VDI OVERVIEW

The concept of virtual desktops may sound appealing, but assembling the components and infrastructure isn’t the easiest operation. If you already have a virtual infrastructure and a strong network backbone, however, you may have most of the pieces in place. This section provides an overview of VDI and how it fits into a data center.

Virtual desktop infrastructure: The big picture
Virtual desktop infrastructure requires a strong network and an efficient remote desktop protocol. Otherwise, bandwidth constraints will choke user performance. Before you commit to a VDI project, evaluate which network protocol and vendor technologies are best suited for your data center.

What’s new with virtual desktop infrastructure?
VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop are based on proprietary technology. But these virtual desktop infrastructure products share common goals and problems. Understanding the principles of virtual desktops will aid any VDI deployment, regardless of the vendor.

How virtual desktops fit in the enterprise
Virtual desktops have begun to gain traction in the enterprise. A VDI deployment, for example, can beef up security and streamline application upgrades. IT staff can also troubleshoot virtual desktops remotely. With these benefits, it’s no surprise that more enterprises are considering virtual desktops.



PROS AND CONS OF VIRTUAL DESKTOPS

Do the perks of VDI justify the cost? Sometimes deploying virtual desktops is more expensive than rolling out new physical machines. Virtual desktops don’t have the luxury of local storage, so a VDI deployment requires expensive investments in a storage area network.VDI clearly isn’t for every IT shop, but is it right for your business?

Virtual desktops: The benefits that sell VDI
To get the most virtual desktop benefits for your investment, you must consider numerous factors, including the size and scope of your VDI project. In some cases, virtual desktops can reduce desktop costs by 40%. And by centrally managing virtual desktops in a data center, you can improve security and spend less time on troubleshooting endpoints.

VDI products with low infrastructure, licensing costs
A common VDI misconception is that small companies cannot afford the associated infrastructure upgrades and licensing costs. But there are ways to deliver virtual desktops with low infrastructure and licensing requirements. You may run into drawbacks, such as diminished security and no offline support, however.

Why VDI might not be right for you
VDI’s hype may outstrip the truth, and there are many problems associated with virtual desktops. You may not save any money, for example. Before you make a big investment, check out why VDI may not be right for you.

VDI isn’t bad -- it’s just heavyweight
VDI increases a data center’s complexity. If you diagram a basic virtual desktop infrastructure, you will see an intricate, interconnected web of components. It’s not that VDI is a bad idea -- it’s just a heavyweight answer to the problem of application delivery.



DESKTOP VIRTUALIZATION SOFTWARE

For companies that require a complete VDI package, VMware View 4.5 and Citrix XenDesktop are two of the most popular products. Simpler desktop virtualization software, such as VMware Fusion and Workstation, are tailor-made for test and development environments.

VMware View 4.5 A complete guide
View 4.5 is the latest virtual desktop infrastructure product from VMware. For many VMware shops, it’s the natural choice because it uses a vSphere infrastructure to deploy virtual desktops. This guide has resources on VMware View 4.5 features, installation and management tips.

The basics of VMware View
Building and maintaining a VMware View infrastructure can be a daunting challenge. But the right information can lessen the degree of difficulty. This series on the basics of VMware View should explain what you’re up against.

VMware Fusion performance tips for Mac users
VMware Fusion is desktop virtualization software that allows Mac users to run multiple OSes on Mac OS X. It’s essential for administrators who need to test code on different operating systems and browsers. To get the most out of this desktop virtualization software, there are some VMware Fusion performance tips that you should follow.

Why you should upgrade to Workstation 7
VMware Workstation 7 allows users to concurrently run multiple operating systems. Unlike previous versions, Workstation 7 can run Microsoft Windows 7. It also supports three-dimensional graphics in guest VMs and advanced security encryption.

This was first published in February 2011

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