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Nonpersistent or persistent desktop approach? That's still the question

VDI shops have a tough choice between persistent and nonpersistent desktops. Persistent desktops, for example, give users customization, but they also consume a lot of storage.

For as long as people have been predicting that, "this is the year of VDI" there has also been a debate raging...

about persistent vs. nonpersistent virtual desktops.

With a persistent desktop approach, each user has a specific desktop assigned to him that he logs in to every time he accesses his virtual desktop. Persistent desktops allow users to customize their desktops the same way they would with a physical PC, including personalizing their desktop backgrounds and color schemes.

Nonpersistent desktops, on the other hand, are not assigned to specific users. Each time a user logs in to a virtual desktop he works with a randomly assigned desktop. With this method the user cannot make any permanent changes to his desktop.

And therein lies the core of the nonpersistent vs. persistent desktop battle: IT departments like the control, flexibility and repeatability nonpersistent desktops bring, but end users prefer the flexibility of personalized persistent desktops.

Pros and cons of a persistent desktop approach

It is fairly simple to implement persistent desktops because IT does not have to make any changes to its current desktop management procedures. And it's comfortable for users because nothing changes in the way their desktops look and feel. It's also easier to sell to users because they can take ownership of their desktops and infuse them with their personalities.

Persistent desktops consume a lot of storage however, because IT has to account for all the heavily customized and individual desktop images. The high number of underlying images also makes storage management more complicated.

The case for and against a nonpersistent desktop approach

It's difficult to create a truly nonpersistent desktop because there are inherent levels of persistence in virtual desktops.

What a majority of users do not understand is that IT already builds some vestiges of nonpersistence into their physical desktops. Logon and logoff scripts, for example, allow IT administrators to quickly configure a machine with common settings such as network drives and printers. Roaming profiles allow IT to redirect home drives, internet favorites, desktop themes and background pictures to a centralized location where they are saved and backed up when the user is not working with his machine.

Operational management is easier with nonpersistent desktops because IT has to support fewer golden images. The storage requirements are also significantly lower because admins are working with fewer images.

Of course users have to sacrifice any level of customization with traditional nonpersistent desktops, which can lead to dissatisfaction. And even though physical desktops are company assets admins manage, users still consider them an extension of their personal space like their desks. The ability to personalize their compute devices creates a happier workplace.

Finally, it's difficult to create a truly nonpersistent desktop because there are inherent levels of persistence in virtual desktops from sources such as locally stored profiles.

Does it have to be either/or?

The debate between a nonpersistent and persistent desktop approach does not have to be black and white. Both options have positives and negatives, but ultimately IT should pick between the two based on user requirements.

In the same way admins configure different desktops for different users or departments, they can configure different deployment methodologies for different users. Task workers, for example are well suited for traditional nonpersistent desktops that reset when users log off. The marketing and finance departments however, are better off with persistent desktops where IT creates images for them with their custom applications.

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Everyone wants some customization

Even workers who are best suited for nonpersistent desktops want some customization. It's not cheap but it is possible to deliver personalization to nonpersistent desktop users. One option is to turn to app layering technologies such as VMware Mirage, UniDesk, which Citrix acquired, or Workspot. Admins can also try profile management tools such as Liquidware Labs ProfileUnity, VMware User Environment Manager or Citrix Profile Management. Application virtualization products such as Microsoft App-V, VMware ThinApp or Citrix XenApp can also do the trick.

By using these technologies admins can emulate a persistent desktop while still cutting down on administrative overhead and empowering users' sense of ownership. Even though these technologies are pricey, from an ongoing operational perspective a nonpersistent approach with some personalization could lead to a significant reduction in long-term costs.

Still, it is unlikely organizations have the skills in-house to implement these extra technologies. As a result IT should hire short-term contractors or resellers with the necessary skills. The temporary workers can get the in-house team up to speed on how to use these technologies.

Next Steps

Managing persistent vs. nonpersistent desktops

Explore nonpersistent desktop security

How users react to nonpersistent desktops

This was last published in April 2017

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