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Demystifying desktop virtualization technology

Last updated:June 2013

Editor's note

When it comes to virtual desktop infrastructure, administrators have a lot of choices. You may have wondered about the differences between desktop virtualization technology and product options, remote display protocols or all the licenses out there. In this series, we tackle some of the biggest head-scratchers facing VDI admins to help you get things straight. 

Check back each month for the latest installment of the "Let's get this straight" series below. If you encounter something in your desktop virtualization travels that you want cleared up, write to us at

1Considering offline access to virtual desktops

Connected VDI means the user connects to a virtual desktop that's on the corporate network, and disconnected VDI isn't connected to the network. With offline VDI, you can access a virtual desktop from just about anywhere -- even without an Internet connection. The tricky part is ensuring a quality user experience in that scenario.

2How Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View compare

VDI software from Citrix Systems and VMware have some different features and options that you should get to know. Each platform works with a different remote display protocol, supports different hypervisors, and works with a variety of clients.

3Understanding nonpersistent and persistent VDI

When you deploy VDI, you can choose either persistent or nonpersistent virtual desktops. Persistent desktops allow users to customize their desktop because the data is saved each time the user logs off, and they connect to the same disk image when they log back in. Nonpersistent desktops are shared, making them easier to manage, update and secure; plus, they require less storage.

4Should you use thin or zero clients?

There is a variety of endpoints you can use to support desktop virtualization technology. Thin clients are one way to reduce hardware -- and you can even repurpose old PCs as thin client hardware. Also consider zero clients, an even slimmer endpoint, but make sure what you're getting from the vendor is actually a no-software client.

5Getting to know remote display protocols

Remote display protocols are responsible for transmitting data from the virtual desktop in the data center to the display that a user sees on his screen. The major vendors' protocols, VMware PCoIP, Microsoft RemoteFX/RDP and Citrix HDX differ in terms of graphics capabilities, underlying protocols and how they work to deliver virtual and remote desktops over the network.

6Comparing application virtualization options

There are a number of tools out there for application virtualization and streaming, including the major vendors' options: Citrix XenApp, VMware ThinApp and Microsoft App-V. Citrix won't support its App Streaming feature in Windows Server 2012, so the company is turning customers to App-V. Also get to know ThinApp Factory and what's new in the latest versions of these tools.

7How cloud-hosted desktops differ from VDI

Although cloud-hosted desktops rely on the same infrastructure elements as VDI, with Desktop as a Service (DaaS) you are outsourcing virtual desktops to a provider. Determine which path is right for your organization, and make sure you take the right steps to choose a DaaS provider.

8Clearing up Microsoft virtual desktop licensing

Licensing is one of the most confusing aspects of VDI. Microsoft doesn't make it easy for administrators to implement virtual desktops with the proper licensing, so you need to learn the differences between the vendor's major licenses. Its newest license for BYOD adds to the complexity.