Planning and managing virtual desktop pools

Virtual desktop pools make management easier, but you have to plan for them and remember that the way you create pools depends on your VDI platform.

Virtual desktop pools make managing virtual desktops and their settings easier, but setting up pools takes planning and is different for each kind of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

Another thing to consider with virtual desktop pools is what fail-safes you have in place. If access to the pools becomes unavailable, then users can't get to their desktops and that can halt productivity until the pools are back online.

With the responses to these frequently asked questions, learn how to plan virtual desktop pools, create them with VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop and guard against failure.

What are virtual desktop pools?

A virtual desktop pool is a group of virtual desktops hosted on virtual machines (VMs) that are configured with the same settings and features.

Depending on the VDI software you use, you can deploy either dedicated or floating-assignment pools. Dedicated-assignment pools send the user to the same VM each time he logs on, so he can personalize the desktop and those changes will be saved when he logs off. In floating-assignment pools, all the users who connect to the VM see the same desktop, so they can't personalize their settings.

What are the benefits of pooling virtual desktops?

Pooling virtual desktops makes it easier to configure desktop settings and centralizes management. This setup also lets you deliver identical applications to groups of users, and you can automate virtual desktop provisioning. Finally, pooling makes patching and updating desktops easier, because you can simply apply the update to all your virtual desktops in a pool at once.

How do I plan for virtual desktop pool deployment?

You can use Active Directory settings and the OS images that you already have for various groups of users as the basis for planning virtual desktop pools. Once you know which applications and features each pool needs, build an image and do a limited beta test for each pool image and its apps. Consider where data is stored, if and how data is backed up and how you'll handle updates. Then you can roll out the pools using a phased-in approach.

How do I create virtual desktop pools in VMware View?

To create VMware View virtual desktop pools, use the View Administrator console. Through the Add Desktop wizard, you can choose to create an individual desktop pool, automated desktop pool, manual desktop pool or a Microsoft Terminal Services desktop pool -- plus, decide if the pool should be persistent or nonpersistent. The wizard also lets you control settings and use linked clone technology for the pooled virtual desktops. Pay attention to the steps for storing user data; it's usually best to store that data on a separate disk from the OS.

What about with Citrix XenDesktop?

With XenDesktop, you'll use the Setup Wizard to create virtual desktop pools. Before you start, you need to set up a VM template, define a desktop farm and allow that farm to access Active Directory. Choose the provisioning server vDisk and determine whether those desktops will live in the default organizational unit or a custom one. The configuration options and deployment process are pretty similar to VMware View's from here on out.

How do I build fault tolerance in Microsoft RDS virtual desktop pools?

If your virtual desktop pool fails, all the users associated to that pool lose access to their desktops, so it's important to build fault tolerance into your VDI deployment.

If you use gateway servers in a Remote Desktop Services pool, deploy parallel gateways and then use Domain Name System servers to load balance. If external users retry their connections enough times, they should be able to reach one of the servers. To deal with failure of a Hyper-V server, you can create a failover cluster or build a cluster that uses shared storage.

This was first published in June 2013

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