Since the 1990s, some companies have moved the operating system for workstations from the workstation itself to a server providing operating system images for many different workstations. This virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has been touted as offering lower cost of ownership for years, yet the majority of workstations in business are still traditional self-hosted operating system computers.
Should your company be moving to VDI for its workstations?
Getting clear on terms
There is a form of virtual desktop that allows an instance of one operating system (say, Debian Linux) to be run on top of a different operating system (such as Windows 10). That’s not VDI. The virtual desktops of VDI are all delivered from a central source. That is the basis of their benefit because the IT staff needs to maintain only a central store of operating system images for every workstation in the group.
Within VDI are two broad types.
- Persistent VDI provides a unique desktop to each user. Applications, settings, and more can be customized and saved so that the users are given a personal desktop each time they log in to the system. No matter which workstation they use, they see their own desktop.
- Nonpersistent VDI provides all users with the same desktop. When a user logs out of a session, the session details are all discarded (though any data worked on will, of course, be saved), and a new, generic desktop is generated at the next log in.
For the company, there are pros and cons to each of these types.
Pros and cons of persistent VDI
Persistent VDI gives users an experience that is closest to their traditional workstation. It’s possible, in fact, that they would not notice the shift from on-PC operating system to VDI if they weren’t told about it. This kind of experience comes at the cost of greater storage requirements and more complexity at the server, since the IT staff must maintain a pool of unique OS instances, one for each user.
Pros and cons of nonpersistent VDI
Nonpersistent VDI is much simpler: A single operating system image is maintained, with a copy made and deployed when each user logs in. There’s more disruption to the users, who lose their personal desktops, but this type of deployment does have some security benefits since many types of malware and attacks are discarded at log-off rather than being stored on a desktop hard disk.
Each of these VDI types can be provided either by local servers or through desktop as a service (DaaS) cloud instances. For smaller IT groups worried about maintaining a server for virtual desktops, DaaS can provide the best of both worlds: Workstations are simpler to maintain because they lack operating systems, and a virtual desktop server is maintained by someone else.
There is one additional factor to consider regarding VDI. In an environment of BYOD, mobility, and departments that want to offer different hardware platforms, VDI can provide the same desktop and application set to all users regardless of the hardware they have in front of them. Companies have provided identical Microsoft Windows desktops, for example, on PCs, iPads, Android tablets, and Macintosh laptops.
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