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Desktop virtualization stirs interest

Workshop feedback

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This week we have taken a look at how desktop virtualization solutions are being used and their potential for future deployments. Your comments on the topic are extensive, full of practical experience and, on the whole, fairly positive.

But before rushing in to consider the feedback in depth, Camilla Smythe did make a fair point when stating "First off Define Desktop Virtualization". This is indeed a challenge with many vendors all leaping on the terminology but using it in association with a wide range of technically different solution architectures.

For the purposes of discussion here, we will consider two broad categories:

  • Client partitioning, in which multiple virtual machines are executed locally on a single client PC
  • Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), in which, through whatever mechanism, the desktop software is managed and/or executed centrally via your server infrastructure.

Starting with client partitioning, your feedback goes some way to validating some of the claims made by vendors in terms of where desktop virtualization has already garnered some success. In brief, these are summarised by one anonymous reader as:

Having multiple development configurations that I can snapshot & roll back without having to uninstall & reinstall various bits of software / versions all the time.
Having a reference baseline build that I can quickly replicate to build new clean development instances without starting from scratch each time. Just by copying a few files.
Running a corporate standard desktop on a non-standard laptop build - ie running XP on Linux
Having a throw-away windows sandbox machine that can be used for dodgy software / media downloads and then totally erased from disk after to eliminate viruses etc.

But perhaps the advantage that came through most strongly was in terms of 'flexibility' to run software on whatever physical platform may be wanted. For example, TheBloke mentioned it being possible to employ "Linux as the host OS while allowing me to continue to use the Windows apps I want - Microsoft Office, Toad for Oracle, Photoshop and more. Plus it allows me to use all those USB peripherals I have that don't work properly under Linux. My mobile phone, for example." He then made the valid point that "Having lots of RAM is important of course".

In terms of context, the relevance of desktop virtualization in the form of client partitioning in the development organization was pointed out by several readers. Mountford D said "As it is, I have just one PC and simply boot into whichever VM in whatever configuration I need. Brilliant stuff." Dave 129 added: "Anyone that has to do testing and validation of multiple browsers, VMs are about the only reliable solution." I am not sure that this is entirely accurate, but it is a well made point of use.

Moving on to VDI, one of the first benefits highlighted was the potential for increasing the levels of security that can be achieved, especially with regard to the data that can be found on most laptop machines. John Chadwick's line of reasoning around data governance will ring some bells, for example. His statement of "[use] thin client to know where your data is" reinforces one of the benefits that have been proffered for desktop virtualization solutions over much of the past decade by organizations such as Citrix among others.

Juillien went further, combining security and ongoing support together: "Nothing should really be written to local hard disk for users and profiles should be network based. With all this in place, upgrading a machine to a new version should be near as simple as copying the image to the machine and off you go. It gets round a myriad driver updates issues for diverse machines (as long as they run the hypervisor), and any 'machine corruption' is a case of drop a fresh image in, and all's good."

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