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Considerations for virtual application delivery vs. full desktops

Deciding whether to deploy full virtual desktops or just a few virtual applications -- or a combination of the two -- comes down to issues of compatibility and end-user productivity.

Many organizations grapple with the issue of deciding between virtual desktops or virtual application delivery. Or should you do a combination of the two technologies?

Desktop virtualization and application virtualization are often used together, but they are really separate technologies. It is possible to deliver virtual desktops to users without virtualizing applications. It is also possible to perform app virtualization without delving into the world of virtual desktops.

The question is which of these technologies should your organization use? Each organization has its own unique requirements, but there are some things to consider as you determine which technologies to use.

Pick and choose what to virtualize

Consider whether the experiences IT creates through desktop or application virtualization will help or hurt user productivity.

If you are considering a virtual desktop deployment, one often overlooked consideration is that desktop virtualization is not an all or nothing proposition. It is tempting to think of VDI as something that IT implements on an organization-wide basis. There is no rule, however, that says all of an organization's desktops must be virtual. Depending on the business needs, it may be perfectly acceptable to use a combination of physical and virtual desktops.

In these types of hybrid environments, it may be beneficial to virtualize applications even though IT does not virtualize every desktop. Doing so provides IT with a way to easily manage applications across both physical and virtual desktops. It also allows users to have a consistent application experience as they move between physical and virtual desktops.

Get on the app level

But IT must also consider the applications themselves. Not every application can or should be virtualized. Complex dependencies between applications can derail the application virtualization process, as can dependencies on plug-ins or middleware.

Admittedly, virtualizing these types of applications is easier than it once was. The latest version of Microsoft's App-V, for example, allows administrators to define relationships between virtual applications to address dependency issues. Even so, organizations must consider the capabilities and limitations of whichever app virtualization tool they use.

When deciding whether to virtualize applications, IT must determine how those apps would be available to users if they were not virtualized. If the organization is not using virtual desktops, then IT can simply install the applications the usual way. If they are using virtual desktops, then IT must take into account the issue of application maintenance. Applications that are installed directly onto nonpersistent virtual desktops may experience problems related to patch management, for instance.

Don't forget the endpoint

IT pros must also consider the endpoint devices from which users will use either virtual desktops or apps, and evaluate their compatibility and practicality for remote access.

Desktop virtualization and app virtualization tend to eliminate a lot of compatibility problems. Even so, the endpoint device must run a client component that allows it to connect to the virtual desktop or application. Virtual desktop clients tend to be universally available. The major VDI vendors offer client components for nearly every device imaginable.

The same cannot always be said, however, for virtual application clients. This is an important consideration, because if an organization chooses to virtualize applications but not desktops, then some mobile users may not be able to use the virtualized applications. If, for example, an application virtualization product only supports Windows clients, then mobile users working from an Apple device would be unable to access the virtual applications because no suitable client component is available.

Conversely, Apple users should generally have no trouble connecting to a Windows virtual desktop because virtual desktop clients tend to be readily available -- although this depends on the virtualization vendor's product. IT can provision virtual desktops with application virtualization clients, allowing the user to access the virtual application even if no native app virtualization client exists for the device.

Still, the aspect of practicality comes into play. Just because software exists to allow a particular device to access virtual desktops or applications does not mean that doing so is a good idea. IT must consider whether the experiences they create through desktop or application virtualization will help or hurt user productivity. It is possible, for instance, to connect an iPad Mini to a virtualized Windows desktop, but such a device probably would not allow the user to work in an efficient manner.

By and large, virtual desktop and virtual application delivery work really well with one another, but an organization must consider its own unique needs as well as the capabilities and limitations of the virtualization software.

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