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How does VDI software work?

Virtual desktop infrastructure can seem complex because there are so many options and possible configurations. But when it comes down to it, VDI software works via two easy-to-understand components.

There are two main components that make VDI software work. The first is the connection broker, and the other is...

a hypervisor.

The connection broker's job is to assign inbound user sessions to a virtual desktop, and the hypervisor is what actually runs the virtual desktops. With virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), hypervisors work in much the same way as they do with server virtualization.

VDI software usually defines pools of virtual desktops. When a user establishes a session with a connection broker, it assigns the session to an available virtual desktop from the appropriate pool. Virtual desktop pools are usually for groups of users who share the same needs, such as a sales team whose members all need access to the same applications and utilities on their desktops.

Virtual desktops can be non-persistent -- meaning they are reset to a pristine state after each use -- or they can be persistent. A persistent virtual desktop is one that "belongs" to a specific user who is free to make changes, such as assigning custom wallpaper. It does not delete those changes at logoff.

Every vendor uses its own approach to VDI software. There are often similarities between providers, but there can also be major differences from one vendor to the next. Depending on which VDI provider you go with, there may be other components involved -- such as tools for profile management, application virtualization, license tracking and more -- but the broker and hypervisor are standard in all VDI software.

It is important to realize that a failure within a VDI environment can lead to a major outage where no users are able to access their desktops. To that end, VDI strategies almost always incorporate redundant hardware and software in an effort to isolate and minimize the effects of any singular malfunction.

Next Steps

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Citrix VDI-in-a-Box vs. XenDesktop: Which is better for SMBs?

This was last published in October 2014

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