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VDI: not just about Windows 7

The move to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a big change affecting both users and developers and migration to Windows 7 may well be the catalyst. However, VDI can also be used to enhance the user experience and reduce administrative over heads. Mark Bradley, Consultant at GlassHouse Technologies (UK) discusses VDI in the context of security, backups, user experience and ROI.

One reason for using VDI is data security. By the simple fact that user data is back in the data centre physical security is increased. Security permissions of file servers are typically much tighter than those used on desktops and laptops. Also security permissions on file servers can be easily modified for a large number of users in a short time compared to the time it would take to implement permission changes to desktops and laptops.

By moving user data from local storage on desktops and laptops onto file servers in the data centre advantages are gained in respect to protection from hardware failure and for backups. Typically, only high end desktops and laptops have hardware RAID so by moving on to the file servers and backend storage (and utilising RAID), you protect the user data from hard disk failure.

Monitoring of server hardware is also more common place than in laptop and desktop hardware; this monitoring can alert you prior to an actual failure allowing you to be proactive rather than reactive. Once in the data centre, backups of user data are carried out over the data centre network, which is much more efficient than backing up laptops and desktops over LAN or WAN links (if they are backed up at all!).

Operating system patching is much simpler using linked clone VDI desktops. Patches are applied to the “golden image”, so the patch is applied once, making management of security patches a much simpler undertaking. Provisioning new desktops and laptops for new users can be very time consuming. VDI almost eliminates this altogether. Even if you have a “golden image” per department with specific applications installed, the provisioning time is nil per user after the initial configuration of the “golden image”.

With the continuing development and optimisation of network protocols used with VDI, the ability to improve the user experience even over low bandwidth is constantly increasing. This also means that applications accessing back end services in the data centre are now local to those resources, rather than several network hops away. As the optimisation of the networking side of VDI continues, the scenario of having VDI running in remote sites, kiosks, etc gains more momentum.

Using VDI for folder redirection and roaming profiles can improve the user experience by allowing seamless movement around the organisation. This can be useful for hot-desking in, for example, service desk or helpdesk environments.

Virtualisation of servers has proven return on investment (ROI) which many companies are now benefiting from. Virtualisation of the desktop can also have an impressive ROI as typically thin clients use less power than a full desktop PC and to a greater extent laptops. In some cases a thin client will use up to 85% less power than a desktop PC. Also, when comparing the costs of thin clients to PCs, the initial purchase cost is similar. However the ongoing costs of the thin clients are lower than that of PCs. Add to this that ability to make older end of life PCs into terminals that connect to the VDI broker and potentially the spend on thin clients can even be eliminated.

I hope the benefits mentioned above have helped show that when you consider VDI, it’s not just about Windows 7 and there’s a lot more you can do to make the most out of VDI.