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Third-party virtual desktop technologies for Microsoft

Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure solves some key application problems by integrating multiple, otherwise-separated components. But as a relatively nascent entrant in the desktop virtualization market, Microsoft VDI suffers from its limited administrative tool set.

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This tip, the final in a four-part series, outlines some third-party products available for improving Microsoft VDI administration.

Native Microsoft tools aren't enough
Creating a Microsoft VDI environment involves the precise orchestration of multiple services across many servers. The result is a spaghetti-like tangle of connections between servers and services requiring multiple consoles and specific processes for management.

Thankfully, Microsoft regularly allows partners to add to and provide additional value on top of its products. With VDI, you can use these third-party add-ons to increase efficiency and improve overall user experience. Today's partner offerings tend to fall into one of a few categories.

Management. The first such area is management. Considering the complexities of VDI discussed in part three of this series, the management capabilities of Hyper-V virtual machines (VMs) need to improve if you plan to scale your environment past a simple installation.

Products exist today, such as those from Texas-based VDIworks, that replace Microsoft's limited Remote Desktop Connection Broker and offer greater control over user distribution to VMs. VM lifecycle control products are also available. These offerings improve VM provisioning by automating the VM creation and deployment processes, which makes just-in-time VM distribution a possibility -- even for complex environments.

Using native tools alone, Microsoft VDI does not enjoy unified management with its own System Center Virtual Machine Manager software. This omission creates another opportunity for third parties to integrate the consoles of Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services, Remote Desktop Connection Broker, and Remote Desktop Virtualization with Hyper-V under the System Center Configuration Manager banner.

Integration. This integration eliminates the need to use each service's individual console to manage its specific piece of the VDI puzzle. For your company, the value proposition of such integration is the dramatic reduction of the chance of errors in configuring a system and provisioning VMs. One such product that offers these capabilities is the Virtual Access Suite by Provision Networks, a division of Quest Software.

Integrating VDI with traditional Terminal Services applications, as well as those from other vendors, is another area in which improvements are available. These products also provide a unified approach to managing all manner of environments from a single interface.

If your environment suffers from the administrative burden of managing multiple remote application infrastructures made up of Terminal Services, Remote Desktop Services, VDI, Citrix Systems environments and legacy hosts, consider the PowerTerm WebConnect product from Ericom. This product is unique in that it unifies user interfaces as well as management. It provides users with a single location -- similar to Microsoft's Remote Desktop Web Access -- from which they can access all manner of remote application infrastructures across multiple platforms and vendors.

Virtual desktop delivery. A final area of improvement with Microsoft's VDI is the delivery of virtual desktops. Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) -- the native mechanism that connects users over the network to their hosted desktops -- saw substantial improvements with the release of Windows Server 2008, but it still lags other vendors' protocols.

Microsoft's RDP suffers during video playback and doesn't perform well over latent wide-area network connections. Citrix Systems Inc.'s Independent Computing Architecture protocol has its own set of features that enhance the playback of full-motion video and protect the user experience when a network connection slows down. Microsoft's longtime partnership with Citrix means there are several areas in which Citrix's XenDesktop VDI solution can integrate with Microsoft VDI and System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

Most larger organizations have heterogeneous environments, so the ability to integrate VDI infrastructures across multiple vendors' platforms is crucial. These third-party products provide this integration and, as your environment scales, ways to expand administrative reach. In the end, Microsoft's VDI may not be full-featured, but its partners are there to bridge the gap with what your organization requires.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Greg Shields, MCSE, is an independent author and consultant based in Denver with many years of IT architecture and enterprise administration experience. He is an IT trainer and speaker on such IT topics as Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. His recent book Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed is available from Sapien Press.

This was first published in June 2009

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