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Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI is a type of technology that provides users with virtual computer desktops rather than the physical, traditional desktops.
The VDI concept may be a bit hard to grasp. Let's break it down.
Conventionally speaking, a desktop is a computer you go to a store and purchase. You place it on your desktop at home or office and you can then browse the Internet, stream movies or edit documents, etc.
This physical computer you buy has multiple components needed for it to work.
All those components are sitting on your desk (or lap if it's a laptop). They are all in the same place/room.
A virtual desktop is different from a physical desktop in that the computer and applications installed on it are not physically in the same room as you, the keyboard or the monitor. In fact the computer with the applications may be hundreds of miles away in a data center somewhere. The VDI / DaaS technology is what makes you able to access that remote computer as if is next to you. It will allow you to see the desktop and the applications installed on it on your local monitor and interact with it using the your local keyboard and mouse as if is physically next to you. This As-If is what makes it virtual.
Often times VDI and DaaS are used interchangeably, however there is a difference. VDI is the actual underlying technology that makes the virtual desktop possible. DaaS is a cloud term for a paid service that provides VDI. Usually a hosting company provides DaaS. If you implement VDI in-house, then you wouldn't be using DaaS (since you're not paying a provider to provide it to you).
So You may say that makes sense, but why should anybody use this VDI model? What's the point of moving the actual computer to a remote location?
The benefits are actually huge for the following reasons.
It is import when considering a hosted virtual desktop solution to know how this solution will affect user experience. Many decision makers sometimes overlook the importance of user experience while being excited about the features of the product or service. The same applies to VDI/DaaS.
What we want to answer is under optimal circumstances, how does the experience of user on virtual desktop differ from his/her experience on a traditional desktop? Of course if the user is in a remote area with bad internet connection, their experience will suffer. That is not what we we cover here but under ideal conditionals (IE excellent internet connection, low latency, high bandwidth, plenty of horse power on the server) how does this solution feel like to the user?
Latency is worst- One fact is that anything remote will experience latency. What is latency. Let's simplify it and say that latency is the time you do something on your mouse or keyboard for it to be reflected on the screen. Because the hosted desktops are natively remote, if you press a button your computer your local computer has to send this command to the server, the server has to process it and then the server has to send back the updated visual on your screen to show the newly typed letter. Bottom line is latency is worst when using VDI period than a local computer. Good news is that internet speeds are so good now that this is almost negligible so users never tend to complain about it.
Visual Refresh is slower - Say you are watching a video or YouTube on this system the user will likely not have a fast enough refresh rate coming from the server to show a seamless video no matter what. Certain implementations of VDI with GPUs can improve this experience but it will probably always exist.
Audio (speakers and microphone) is choppier - Same goes with audio. Traditional audio on a virtual desktop will need to be transferred from the local user's computer to the server hosting the desktop and out to the people on the other end of the line then back to the server and finally back to the users local computer. That is a lot of hops which will add lags and possibly lost packets to keep up. There are different types of solutions that address this which we will not cover in this guide.
User's Workflow maybe the same of even better. By workflow we mean doing works on the hosted desktop, accessing files, editing files, email, browsing etc. This should be very identical. It may improve because the space may be cleaner, more organized less cluttered than a local computer. This is because often those virtual hosted desktops are usually locked down and designed for work. For example users are often not allowed to install their own software there that they download from the web etc.
Just like any solution, there are benefits and drawbacks. Some things to consider about VDI.
If you decide to go with a DaaS (Desktop as a Service Provider) solution. Meaning you just buy a hosted VDI service then of course there will be an ongoing cost to have the desktops hosted.
VDI may not work well for your company or you as an individual if:
There three types of VDI solutions that are common.
Session based desktops is a type of desktop access where multiple desktops are created for each user on the same master machine. Desktops are isolated from each other by sessions. Those session desktops are essentially using the same master desktop except each user is separated by screen divider if you will.
Those types of desktops are not very personlizable and users often can't do much other than use the applications available to them.
Remote Apps are a way for users to access desktop applications without having to log into a full remote desktop. Users can launch applications and they will appear on their computers as if it was locally installed and will show in their local desktops task bar.
This type of desktop deployment is interesting and quiet smart. This is a type of solution where compared to session based, each user actually gets a dedicated virtual desktop with designated RAM and CPU just for them and isolation is done at the VM rather than just memory.
This type of deployment is driven my a virtual desktop image (sometimes referred to as the golden image. Think of this image as the baseline for all users logging in. It has the most basic and fundamental configuration, software you want all users to have.
When a user logs in, they get a virtual desktop based on that image. At that point they have a full machine just for them.
When they log off, all changes done to the machine are gone. That's right. If they installed software, the software is gone. But what is the point of this you may ask?
It has some good use cases:
Note that personal files that users work on can be stored for next time use. This user specific data is stored under the user's profile. However, everything about the configuration, software on the machine is gone.
As you may know from personal experience, desktops are fickle and can be destabilized with malware, custom software, configuration changes, etc. This makes the desktop break eventually and this type of self resetting desktop is perfect to create consistency and stability.
Personal Desktops is the classic desktop we know. It is still virtual, however here each user is given their own virtual desktop that is persistent and never resets itself. If a user installs software, downloads files, logs off and logs back on, everything remains there.
Those desktops are perfect for developers, users that need good control over
To connect to a virtual desktop that is hosted on VDI infrastructure you need a client. This can be your computer or it can be a thin client. The thin client is also computer, except it is thin in capabilities. So it may have less CPU and RAM and even software installed on it that a traditional computer client. So really all it is is a just a computer with the bare minimum and lowest cost with the sole purpose of connecting you to a hosted virtual desktop.
A Zero Client is also a computer except even thinner than a thin client. So a Zero Client gives you even more bare-bone system that almost has no capability at all but to connect to a remote desktop.
A thin client does allow you for example to launch a browser or possibly install some software, a zero client does not.
VDI has become verify popular. Many large technology companies are competing and offering competitive VDI solutions. The biggest VDI solutions are provided by:
Those are solutions that you can take and implement onsite by buying the servers and installing those vendor's software on it. Each of those vendors may have their own Desktop-as-a-Service Option as well.
To get a VDI hosted desktop solution, there are a few ways to get started:
Here the answer depends.
Reasons to implement your own VDI would be:
Reasons to outsource VDI and go with hosted DaaS Solution:
For a more detailed look at whether you should buy Desktop as a Service we have written this article that goes into more depth to help you make the right decision.
Although VDI has struggled to take over the traditional desktop completely, VDI is an excellent solution for many organizations. Here are some example of what types of users use VDI in order of the most popular.
GPUs stand for Graphic Processing Unit. So What is their role in VDI? One of the challenges in VDI is that the workloads that require better graphical processing may suffer. If you don't need heavy graphical work for example you are just access Microsoft Word or browsing the web, GPUs may not be needed. However if you are often watching YouTube videos, editing graphics using Photoshop or using any CAD applications like Autodesk AutoCAD, Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks, etc, then you will know exactly why a Virtual Desktop without a GPU can be a terrible experience. You will experience bad refreshes, very high latency in rending and refresh rates.
So if you have those workloads, make sure you shop for a solution that has GPUs. Nvidia is one of the most common GPU companies.
How does a GPU help? Well, a GPU is a specialized technology or chip that allows the handling for graphics and rending etc much more efficiently than your CPU or computer processor. Your experience here will be much smoother, graphics will render faster and refreshes will not be noticeable.
Probably the most common OS used as a virtual desktop is Microsoft Windows. Macintosh or Mac computers are never really an option because of the way Apple licenses their OS so its never an option. Apple often ties their OS to their own hardware so they are no fans of virtualizing the desktop and letting users bypass the purchase of their hardware.
Linux is available as a virtual desktop this could any flavor for Linux such as Ubuntu Desktop as well.
Desktop virtualization using VDI is an alternative technology in delivering desktops for users to work on. With the increased speeds of the Internet and growth in user devices, desktops are becoming a popular options for many companies. Data, management and security are the top benefits of switching to a VDI solution.