Desktop Virtualization – What, Why, and Why Not
Desktop virtualization is the practice of taking end user workstations and moving them onto a virtual environment. Typically, this looks like running many Windows Desktop virtual machines on a server (or server cluster). If you are unfamiliar with virtualization, I would suggest reading up on that topic before continuing. Rather than each user working directly on a PC, they would connect into one of those virtual machines using some type of remote access software (remote desktop, citrix receiver, etc.). For stationary users, this allows replacing the workstation with a lower cost and simplified piece of equipment called a thin client. A Thin client would have a very minimal operating system and acts as a way of using a keyboard, mouse, and monitor to connect to a virtual machine. For more mobile users, they might have a laptop or other mobile device that allows some work to be done on the local machine, but then provides for a means of connecting to their virtual desktop. A simple diagram of this setup is below.
There are many possible benefits to virtualizing your user desktops, such as better protection and redundancy, security, centralized maintenance, mobility, BYOD, and more. Because the user’s workstation is virtualized, it can run on server grade hardware with much more built in redundancy and fault tolerance, all while consolidating and sharing resources. In addition, data backup is greatly simplified since all data is centralized. This centralized design can also aid in security design by offering a more centralized and simplified design. Maintenance is also simplified because user desktops are always available and accessible for maintenance. In addition, many virtual desktop technologies include a means of applying patches and maintenance en masse. If a remote access solution is implemented, then not only can users access their data remotely, but they can access and use their entire workstation from anywhere. Such a remote access strategy can even extend to a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) scenario where employees can use whatever type of device they wish to access their corporate desktop.
While there are many benefits to implementing virtual desktops, there are some challenges as well. The largest challenges revolve around licensing and compatibility. From just a hardware standpoint, it is possible that a virtual desktop infrastructure might be significantly cheaper than traditional workstations, this is generally offset by more expensive and complex licensing. Microsoft licensing is more restrictive and expensive in this scenario and other software vendors often follow suit. Software compatibility can also be a challenge because most software is written with a traditional desktop model in mind. That combined with added the technical hurdles of remote graphics, audio, and control can be a lot to go up against.
As you can see, Desktop Virtualization is a complex topic with many challenges and benefits. Over the next several blog posts, I plan to discuss some of the technologies I have personally tested and explored and to highlight some of the benefits and pitfalls I have discovered. I hope you will come back for the next post!
Michael Richardson – I’m an IT Systems Analyst / Project Manager for Midwest Data Center, a former IT Salesman, and a Youth Pastor at my local church. I live in Maryville, MO and I enjoy learning and implementing new technologies for businesses, solving problems and puzzles, and teaching about my faith.