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The most misunderstood virtual desktop definitions

Think you know what "desktop virtualization" means? Think again. Brian Madden defines five common -- but often misunderstood -- virtual desktop terms.

Since this entire website is about desktop virtualization, I want to focus this week's column on some key terms that are often misunderstood. Take a look at this short list and don't be surprised if you find yourself correcting your boss at the next staff meeting.

Desktop virtualization
It's fitting that the phrase "desktop virtualization" is perhaps the most misunderstood and misused. "Desktop virtualization" is often used to describe virtual desktops running on central servers that users access remotely. That technology is more appropriately referred to as either virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or hosted virtual desktops. The term "desktop virtualization" is actually much broader and applies to any technology that separates the physical client device from the management of the desktop operating system. So while it's true that VDI is a type of desktop virtualization, it's only one of many: Client-based virtual machines, disk image streaming, and terminal server technologies are all forms of desktop virtualization.

BYOPC (Bring your own PC)
Most people think of BYOPC as a program where employees bring their own laptops into the office and where IT provides the corporate applications as a service to the employee machines. While that certainly qualifies for BYOPC, the "own" in BYOPC doesn't have to be literal. Many BYOPC programs are still built with corporate-owned laptops, but the end users "own" the management of them. In those cases, the users have admin rights and can do whatever they want, while IT apps are still provided as a service.

Bandwidth requirements
Everyone is always looking to compare the various remoting protocols -- HDX, RDP, PCoIP, etc. -- to find out which one requires the least amount of bandwidth. The problem is that it's not possible to think about bandwidth by itself -- you also have to consider the impact to the host CPU and the performance characteristics of your content at a certain bandwidth. (And, frankly, you have to consider how the bandwidth consumption was measured in the first place. Measuring bandwidth consumed on a wide-open network is pretty worthless.)

Cloud-based desktops
Now that everything's becoming cloud-based, there's a lot of talk about cloud-based desktops, or desktop as a service (DaaS). Most people think this is your corporate desktop running in some data center in the cloud that's delivered to the users via one of the remoting protocols. But that's not a real cloud computing desktop -- that's a desktop being outsourced to a service provider (just like we've been doing for 15 years). A true cloud-based desktop will evolve from what we have today with Microsoft Windows. It will tie in applications, data and flexible client devices.

Software as a Service (SaaS)
The current SaaS movement is focused around Web-based applications, such as and Google enterprise apps. But the corporate world runs on Windows, and real SaaS is not just Web apps because it also includes the various application virtualization technologies to deliver Windows apps.

There are probably hundreds of terms we can define in the desktop virtualization space. Are there any that perplex you? Message us on Twitter @VirtDesktopTT.

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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