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Integrating Windows 7 into VDI to simplify PC upgrades

The move from Windows XP to Windows 7 is anything but easy. Enterprises can simplify -- and quicken -- their migration by adopting a virtual desktop infrastructure.

With Windows XP approaching the end of its serviceable life, many organizations are contemplating a Windows 7 upgrade. However, the move from XP to Windows 7 is anything but easy. A lack of migration tools and increased hardware requirements prevent a simple -- or rapid -- migration. In addition, network admins must find an effective way to deploy Windows 7 with associated line-of-business applications while still providing end users with acceptable levels of performance and not breaking any budgets.

Considering a move to Windows 7?

Check out our checklist for upgrading to Windows 7.

Also, read How to install a clean version of Windows 7, and find more info on how VDI helps IT migrate to Windows 7.

These requirements are forcing admins to consider different methods for delivering desktop operating systems (OSes) and apps to end users. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offers enterprise IT an option beyond the "rip and replace" mentality of OS upgrades. VDI may also accelerate the Windows 7 upgrade process since it removes many of the traditional roadblocks.

Several components work together in VDI to create a virtual PC that can be accessed by a remote endpoint. In most cases, that endpoint needs to run only a thin-client application or a compatible Web browser to access the virtual PC. The very nature of VDI shifts the processing requirements back to the data center and the servers hosting the virtual machine (VM).

In its most basic form, VDI consists of a hypervisor (a VM engine), a virtual hard disk (VHD), a connection broker (which connects the user to the VM) and a management console. It works by transmitting screen activity from the VM to the client PC, and keystrokes from the client PC to the virtual PC using a display protocol that runs over a TCP/IP connection. In short, endpoint devices connect to a virtual PC over an Ethernet connection or via the Internet.

The concept of providing a virtual PC to a client PC is not new -- Microsoft's Terminal Services has been doing this for years -- but VDI offers more capabilities, is easier to deploy, and works with more OSes and client devices. Additionally, when Windows 7 is paired with Microsoft's VDI product, it incorporates several features that make VDI more feasible and easier to deploy and use, including:

  • The Windows Aero Interface
  • Support for videos in Windows Media Player 11
  • Multiple monitor support
  • Microphone/sound card support for VoIP
  • Easy Print, which allows you to print on the local printer without installing a printer driver
  • Common tools for IT departments to manipulate virtual desktop images

When combined with Windows 7's security and performance enhancements, these new capabilities make Microsoft's latest desktop OS a great choice for a VDI implementation. In addition, Microsoft has enhanced several features in Windows Server 2008 R2 to improve the deployment and functionality of virtualized Windows 7 machines.

For example, Windows Server 2008 R2 contains enhanced Virtual Desktop Integration technology, which extends the functionality of Terminal Services to deliver certain business programs to remote desktops. With this technology, programs that Remote Desktop Services (RDS) sends to a computer are now available on the Start menu alongside locally installed programs. This approach improves desktop and application virtualization.

Desktop virtualization will also benefit from features including improved personalization management, a near-invisible integration of virtualized desktops and applications in Windows 7, better audio and graphics performance, and a seriously cool Web access update. Virtual Desktop Integration provides more efficient use of virtualized resources and better integration with local peripheral hardware as well as powerful new virtual management features.

The benefits of deploying Windows 7 via Virtual Desktop Integration include:

  • Reduced expenses for desktop hardware
  • Reduced costs associated with operating system and software deployments
  • Quicker OS rollouts
  • Integrated, centralized management of virtual PCs
  • Elimination of expensive physical PC management applications
  • Improved support (and fewer help desk calls)
  • Improved security
  • Improved backup and recovery of PCs (VHDs are easily backed up.)
  • Better support for mobile workers
  • Consolidation of servers, PCs and data center hardware

However, there are a few downsides with this technology that enterprises need to considering, including:

  • Performance tied to network latency and throughput
  • Additional hardware and servers needed in the data center
  • Complicated administration
  • Licensing costs
  • New deployment procedure

The benefits may seem to outweigh the cons, however the issues listed may have substantial costs that admins should carefully consider before planning a deployment.

It's possible to create a smooth transition from Windows XP to Windows 7 in an enterprise. VDI can help to eliminate many of the pain points and introduce new technologies that can improve productivity.

Frank Ohlhorst is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.

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