Virtualizing the Desktop for Networking - dummies

Virtualizing the Desktop for Networking

By Doug Lowe

Virtualizing your servers with a product such as VMWare is an excellent way to leverage the value of your server-computing hardware. Virtualization isn’t just for servers, however — it’s also possible, and in many cases desirable, to virtualize your desktops.

When you virtualize your desktops, all of the actual work is done on the host computer, not on the user’s desktop computer. The desktop computer (or client computer) does little more than display output on its monitor and gather input from its keyboard and mouse. The operating system along with any programs the user is working with run remotely on the host computer, not on the client computer.

Running your desktops virtually has several key advantages over traditional computer deployment:

  • The client computer doesn’t have to be a state-of-the-art machine to run demanding applications. In fact, in some cases the desktop computer is little more than a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and a network interface. (Such a computer is often called a thin client.)

  • If a client computer malfunctions or dies completely, you can quickly replace it with a new one. No need to reconfigure the OS for the user, no need to reinstall software, no need to copy files from the old client to the new. Because the user’s actual desktop environment lives on the host rather than on the client, the user can be up and running on a new computer in a matter of minutes, not hours.

  • Users can move from client to client and have the identical desktop experience regardless of the client. This is useful when users share computers or do not have permanently assigned desks.

  • Users can also access their virtual desktops remotely, from home or from a laptop. As long as a computer has an Internet connection, the user can securely access his or her desktop.

  • Rather than installing and maintaining a separate copy of all your software applications for each user, desktop virtualization lets you install and maintain just one copy of each application on the host computer. (However, you must still purchase a license for each user.)

In addition to fully virtualizing your complete desktop, you can also virtualize individual applications. For example, you can install Microsoft Office on a host server and then run it from clients. The application will appear to the users exactly as if it were running on his or her computer, but the work will be done on the server, not the client.

The most basic form of desktop virtualization is provided by Terminal Services, which is a standard part of Windows Server. Terminal Services is an excellent way to dip your toe into the desktop virtualization pond. But to really take advantage of desktop virtualization, you’ll need to add third-party software. The most widely used enhancement to Terminal Services is XenApp by Citrix.

XenApp has many advantages over Terminal Services, but the most important advantage is that it can run on non-Windows clients. Thus, with XenApps, you can access your virtual desktop from an Apple Mac computer, an iOS device such as an iPad or even an iPhone, or an Android device.