BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Virtual application and desktop deployments provide easy-to-deliver remote workstations and simplified management for IT, but the technology is not always viable due to factors such as cost.
With virtual app and desktop deployments, IT can store desktops and applications in the data center rather than on users' devices. As a result, admins can manage and monitor the user experience more directly and edit a centralized image.
Once an organization decides to virtualize applications and desktops, IT still has a number of important decisions to make, including how to host the desktops and deliver the virtual apps.
Why should I use virtual desktops?
Proponents of physical desktops might say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." This argument is reductive, but it does have some merit. A change from physical desktops to virtual desktops involves potential user confusion, extra work for IT and additional costs.
However, that argument neglects the potential benefits desktop virtualization brings, including simplified management. With physical desktops, IT would have to individually deploy an update on each device, but with VDI or desktop as a service (DaaS), it can configure, update and upgrade desktops automatically.
Virtual desktops can also help IT securely deliver resources from the organization's infrastructure to remote users. The trend of working remotely has increased the need for mobile workstations, causing many organizations to seek virtual desktops. Because the desktops aren't hosted locally on the users' devices, an organization can distribute stripped-down endpoints, known as thin clients, that cut down on hardware costs and simplify management.
How should I choose between VDI and DaaS?
With VDI, the organization hosts its virtual desktops on its on-premises infrastructure, but with DaaS, the organization purchases virtual desktops hosted by a third-party vendor.
VDI enables desktop customization and cost savings for large organizations with hundreds or thousands of endpoints. For smaller organizations or cash-strapped IT departments, VDI may be more trouble than it's worth. DaaS vendors host the desktops on their own back-end infrastructure and provide outsourced support.
Choosing DaaS over VDI provides consistent pricing, as well, so the organization only pays for the desktops it uses. This comes at the cost of rigid offerings that may not match the organization's specific needs, however. DaaS cannot always match industry compliance standards for security, for example.
What are the benefits of virtual applications?
Many of the merits of virtual desktops also apply to app virtualization, which allows users to access applications without storing the apps locally. The most common way to do this is by hosting applications on a server and delivering the apps to desktops based on which users require them. Setting individual app permissions for each desktop helps IT to avoid installing and updating applications on every endpoint and minimize storage use by removing unnecessary apps.
IT has a few options for virtual app delivery, including application layering -- the method of delivering virtual apps in a layer separate from the desktop. As a result, IT pros can install, update and manage layered apps without making changes to the virtual desktop image. With this method, users can interact with the apps as if they are stored locally and interact with the OS; typical virtual app delivery involves no communication with the OS.
Instead of delivering the desktop and applications as an all-in-one deployment, IT can deploy one version of the application to every user that requires it. They can also deploy the apps on a group-by-group basis.
IT can also use application remoting, which delivers published applications to users. IT installs the published apps on the back-end infrastructure, but they provide a native app experience. IT can either deploy each application individually to the desktop or deploy a folder of published applications to user groups.
A virtual app deployment isn't perfect for all use cases, however. Users working with graphics-intensive apps can run into performance problems, for example.
What is Remote Desktop Session Host?
When an organization uses Microsoft Windows Server, it likely uses Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) to host desktops or applications on a session-by-session basis. RDSH is just one component of Remote Desktop Services (RDS) in Windows Server, but it does much of the heavy lifting by hosting all of an organization's virtual desktops and applications.
RDSH gives an organization the typical virtualization benefits of simplified management, quicker patch and update deployments, and remote access capabilities.
To fully take advantage of RDSH for virtual app and desktop delivery, an organization also needs, at minimum, RDS' Remote Desktop Licensing to ensure that the organization has a license for each user and Remote Desktop Gateway to provide the connection between the users and the virtual desktops and applications.