- By Spencer Taylor
- Published 05/18/2012
The term virtualisation was coined in the 1960s to refer to technology that allows for a virtual version of actual resources within the IT field.
Following from my initial article overview titled ‘365iT Services Explains the Pros and Cons of Virtualisation’, the next few article guides in this series will take a closer look at how this technology applies to the main fields of IT, namely hardware, software, desktops, memory, storage, data and networks.
This guide will explore virtualisation in the field of desktops – otherwise called client virtualisation.
Introducing Desktop Virtualisation
Desktop virtualisation allows for the use of virtual machines to let multiple network users maintain individualised desktops that run from a single, centrally located computer or server. This means that the people logged on may be located at multitudes of global sites, but they are all connected to the central machine by a local area network, a wide area network or even via the Internet.
As an IT concept, desktop virtualisation separates a personal computer desktop environment from a physical machine using what is called a client–server model of computing. This involves delivering either access to an entire information system environment or bringing this environment to a remote client device. The client device itself may use an entirely different hardware architecture from that used by the projected desktop environment, and it may also be based upon a different operating system.
The term ‘virtual desktop infrastructure’, also called ‘virtual desktop interface (VDI)’ is the server computing model that makes desktop virtualisation possible. It includes all the hardware and software that is needed to support the virtualised environment.
A popular business application of this technology is to store the ‘virtualised’ desktop on a remote central server, instead of on the local storage facility of a remote client. This allows users on the network to work from their local machine using all the resources of the company, while the programs, applications, processes, and data used is managed centrally.
In other words, you would be able to run your firm’s operating system and applications from your smartphone or other mobile device even though these devices wouldn’t normally have the hardware power to get the job done. This also allows for organisations and individuals to take advantage of the flexibility of multiple desktop virtual machines (VMs) using a single hardware platform that doesn’t require additional network and server resources.
Reasons for Implementing Hardware Virtualisation
The simplest yet highly effective use for desktop virtualisation entails remote administration through a controlling computer – thus users would be granted access to the company operating system and applications as needed. In contrast, simple remote desktop software allows several people to use the same controlling computer at one time without interfering with each other, meaning there would be multiple administrators who could perform different tasks. Such a solution would also be useful for accessing hardware attached to the main controlling computer, without disturbing a person who may already be using that computer.
Overall, perhaps the most popular use of desktop virtualisation on an enterprise level is to spread the resources of one machine to several users. For example, a business could then buy one large computer (or server) and a few ‘thin clients’ (cheaper computers which rely on a main computer to pack a punch) instead of having to buy a complete computer for each employee workstation. The affordable thin-client computers would then need just enough resources to run the remote controlling software, making desktop virtualisation a highly cost effective IT solution compared to the traditional way of doing things.
Pros and Cons of Desktop Virtualisation
Desktop virtualisation allows for shared resources, so that every computer on the network has a completely self-contained unit with its own operating system, peripherals and application programs on an as-needed basis. This can also improve the data integrity of user information because all data can be maintained and backed-up in a centralised data centre.
The summarised advantages of this include:
· Secure remote access to an enterprise desktop environment.
· Easier provisioning of new desktop capabilities.
· Less downtime if the server or client hardware fails.
· Reduced cost of rolling out new applications.
· Increased data security.
· Desktop image management.
· Extended refresh cycle for client desktop infrastructure.
As with any technology however, there are limitations to desktop virtualisation:
· Potential security risks if the network is not properly managed.
· Reliance on good connectivity to a corporate or public network.
· Setting up and maintaining drivers for printers and other peripherals can be tricky.
· Difficulty in running certain complex applications such as multimedia.
· Increased downtime if a network failure occurs, however this can be prevented by the use of a Clustered File System.
Desktop virtualisation, if implemented and managed properly, allows for a significant boost to a company’s IT infrastructure, in addition to cost savings on desktop computers and a seamless integration of employee productivity from multitudes of remote locations. If you’re considering this solution, it’s wise to consult with a reputable company which has a successful track record in desktop virtualisation such as 365iT services, since they will be able to advise on which approach will best suit your company’s needs.
About the Author: Spencer Taylor: independent IT journalist.