Virtual desktop infrastructure is set to be the next growth area for IT organisations using virtualisation. The idea is to host users’ desktop systems on virtual server farms, and deliver the desktops using thin-client protocols such as Microsoft RDP or Citrix ICA.
The advantage of VDI architecture is better management of the desktop environment. For example, backups can be made more efficiently, and virtualisation enables connections to peripheral devices such as printers and USB devices to be tightly controlled. In addition, applying patches and ensuring proper configuration of security tools such as firewalls and web proxies can also be better managed if the desktops are hosted within a datacenter.
Unfortunately there seem to be a few hurdles that have so far prevented VDI from gaining widespread use. Currently there is little consensus on the best way to implement VDI. For example, some vendors suggest an architecture that allocates a dedicated VM to each user via a connection broker. Others do away with the cost and complexity of multiple VMs and a connection broker by cloning a single desktop operating system and using application virtualisation to customise it to each individual user’s needs. An American education provider uses such a system to provision some 20,000 desktops using Microsoft Softricity to deploy applications to users as they log into a standard VDI image.
But supporting mobile workers is perhaps the biggest challenge for IT organisations considering VDI. While VDI is an excellent option for supporting remote workers that have a broadband Internet connection, it becomes cumbersome when used to support roaming executives that use a laptop without a permanent Internet connection. While solutions to the problem exist, they typically involve copying the VM to the laptop and running it using a local hypervisor.