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Using Remote Desktop Services for application, OS testing

Most administrators know Microsoft Remote Desktop Services for its ability to provide users with standardized, low-maintenance corporate desktops that are accessible from a variety of devices. That is its primary function, but RDS is also useful for testing purposes.

Remote Desktop Services

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(RDS) is designed to host pools of virtual desktops. It is important to keep in mind, however, that although every virtual desktop within a pool must be configured identically, you're not limited to using a single virtual desktop pool. Some organizations already take advantage of multiple remote desktop pools, creating separate ones for each department or job function. 

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Even so, you might overlook the idea that pools can also be created for application, software and OS testing.

Creating test pools makes it possible to perform a variety of tests on virtual desktops without affecting the desktops in production. You just have to make sure that your RDS deployment has sufficient system resources to host both the production and the VDI testing environments.

What can you test with RDS?

Software: It is relatively easy to build a test environment on top of RDS, so the next question is what types of tests you should perform. Generally, the testing procedure should be treated similarly to pilot deployment testing. If there is a piece of software that you are considering using in your production environment, you can run that software in your test environment to find out how well it works on a virtual desktop.

Applications: You can also use RDS for application testing in a VDI environment, but there are a few things to be on the lookout for. First, make sure that the application installs properly and is able to execute. Some applications (especially ones developed for Windows XP) have trouble running in a virtual desktop environment.

When it comes to application testing, pay attention to the app's performance. Not only does it need to meet the end user's expectations, but it also must consume a reasonable amount of system resources. You simply cannot afford to have a poorly written application consuming an excessive amount of CPU, memory or disk I/O.

Operating systems: Just as a dedicated test pool of virtual desktops can be used to test applications, it can also be used for OS testing. For example, if your virtual desktops are running Windows 7 and you are thinking about transitioning to Windows 8, you could create a test pool of Windows 8 virtual desktops. That way, you can evaluate how well Windows 8 performs within your unique VDI environment.

Upgrades: Another use for RDS is upgrade testing. When it is time to upgrade a virtual desktop's OS or make a major change to the desktop's application set, most administrators create a new gold image. However, it may be easier to perform an in-place upgrade than to create a new image. In these situations, you really don't want to risk corrupting your gold image, so you might consider setting up a test environment that uses a different image instead.

Putting testing into practice

I recently saw someone put VDI testing to work for a slightly different purpose. The organization had a policy stating that all new employees were required to take a two-week training course about Microsoft Office. The company employed a full-time trainer to teach these classes.

For a while, the training used standard corporate virtual desktops. But the trainer realized that she could create a dedicated pool of virtual desktops strictly for training purposes. The licensing costs were decreased because the training desktops contained Microsoft Office but no other applications that would need licensing. She was also able to provision the virtual desktops with Power Point presentations and other materials that were useful in the classroom.

VDI testing can be used for a variety of purposes. The technology is suitable for everything from classroom training to evaluating new software. If you use RDS for software, upgrade, app or OS testing, take care not to deplete the infrastructure's resources or exceed the permitted license usage.

This was first published in November 2012

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