Desktop virtualization in action

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Hosted Desktop

The hosted desktop is the current VMware and Xen method of desktop virtualization. On the virtual machine (VM) host server system, you have several"possibly dozens"of desktop VMs. Users connect via thin clients (smart terminal, dumb terminal, or client software) to their specific VM and run their desktop as if it were local to them, with a few exceptions. The most notable exception is that thin clients have no local CD/DVD or floppy drives. This aspect of virtualized desktops is confusing and frustrating for some users who are used to having local drives from which they can copy files to their desktop computers or to the server system. Most hardware thin clients are equipped with USB ports, so the capability to copy files to and from the virtual desktop or server system still exists.

Second, but less devastating than the lack of a CD or floppy drive, is that many of the new-generation hardware thin client devices also lack an operating system. The devices are remotely programmed to connect to a VM server system, connect to the appropriate VM, and present the user with the desktop system.

Hosted desktop operating systems offer little in the way of saving administrative time and effort, because each individual VM still has its own set of applications, including the operating system itself, antivirus software, an Internet browser, and other programs specific to an individual desktop computer. The VM still needs periodic maintenance, patches, defragmentation, and so on. So where's the savings? It's in hardware maintenance for those individual desktop computers.

Thin client hardware offers ease of administration, no moving parts, and most, if not all, are optimized for a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and are priced at or below the price of a standard desktop computer. A thin client device lasts two to three times longer than a standard desktop.

Desktop computer components typically carry a one-year warranty and therefore begin to fail when the hardware is one year and one day old. Most thin-client devices carry a three-year warranty and have an expected life of five to six years. Laptop computers have a very short life expectancy (about 18 months) because of breakage, loss, failure, and obsolescence, but there are some thin-client laptop computers available for users that require mobility.

Hosted desktop solutions are popular, but they are the least efficient in terms of resource usage, flexibility, and overall cost savings. You should explore all the other desktop virtualization possibilities before plunging headlong into this solution.

Web-Based Solutions

Web-based solutions are relatively new players in the virtualization arena, but they are gaining ground at a rapid pace. Online service companies are gaining trust, and the quality of online applications has increased to the point where many rival their locally installed counterparts. This section looks at hosted web applications and hosted web pseudo-desktop systems.

Hosted Web Applications

Hosted web applications are applications installed and used on remote server systems. Word processing, databases, spreadsheets, customer relationship management (CRM) presentations, and calendars are some of the applications currently being hosted by online providers. Although hosted web applications are not explicitly considered desktop virtualization per se, they are an extension of desktop virtualization. Hosted applications take much of the responsibility away from local staff and users and place it directly on the hosted service company.

Type hosted applications into any search engine, and you'll see hundreds of links to such services. Have an idea or list of applications and services you need before beginning your online search. When you've narrowed your search down to a few candidates for your hosted service, remember to ask about your Service Level Agreement (SLA) terms.

Your SLA describes the service you're paying for when you enter into the hosting contract. The SLA should describe uptime or availability (should be very close to 100%), backup and restore procedures, help desk and customer service availability, and security information. Pay extra attention to indemnification and hold harmless clauses that may state that the hosting company isn't responsible for any losses or damage to files.

Hosted applications are another way to enhance your virtualization strategy and lower maintenance costs associated with application support.

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