VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) refers to the physical and network infrastructure behind an organization’s desktop virtualization setup. In common industry parlance, if this infrastructure is on-premises and managed by the organization’s IT department, it is termed a type of VDI. If the hardware (and sometimes the software management) is remotely located with another company, then the arrangement is categorized as Desktop as a Service (DaaS).
In brief, desktop virtualization is the practice of running an operating system desktop on top of another operating system desktop. We like to use the example of a Windows user needing to run Mac-specific apps (or vice-versa). That user, instead of dual-booting or purchasing a new machine, can “virtualize” the other operating system through a software application. This all occurs from their native desktop.
Frequently, these virtualized desktops are also running on remote hardware so as not to overly tax the local machine. Thus, the term “remote” is sometimes used interchangeably with “virtual” or “virtualized”.
The infrastructure behind this refers to both hardware and software components that allow for A) easy and secure user access to their virtual desktops and B) the remote management of virtual desktop software.
Management of virtual desktop ecosystems can take place within the organization itself, or can be outsourced to a third party software partner in a DaaS arrangement. Companies such as VMWare offer both VDI and DaaS support while other companies such as Remote Workstations specialize in cost-effective DaaS solutions.
There are a few basic layers of components to a complete VDI installation. Assuming that users are accessing virtual desktops on centrally located machines on-premises, a typical setup would include the following:
Components of VDI
- The hypervisor or Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM). Hypervisors provide the capability for a single machine, the host machine, to run multiple self-contained, simultaneous, and separate software ecosystems. This can be achieved through a number of means, whether software, firmware, or hardware. A virtual software ecosystem created by the hypervisor is referred to as a guest machine.
- The connection broker. This is a software component that manages the actual connection between end user devices and the virtual desktops. For example, the track the active/inactive status of virtual instances, authenticate the identities of client devices trying to access virtual desktops, and make sure clients are paired to their correct virtual instances. The last point can be important, as different virtual desktops or machines can be grouped into very different “desktop pools” depending on function, users, and configuration.
- The client device is the device used by the end user to access their virtual desktop. With the current state of the technology, users can access their remote desktops through essentially any networked device.
- The physical machines on which the virtual desktops run are are usually high-performance servers located on-premises in the organization's datacenter.
Benefits of VDI
- One clear benefit of VDI is that users can now be mobile and fully productive with their respective workflows. The ability to bring mission-critical data and software in a secure format with them is a very important advantage.
- Operating systems and applications now have uniformly managed settings across the organization. This streamlining of processes greatly reduces the workload of IT, allows for more uptime of services, and improves the overall user experience.
- Onboarding and scaling for projects and the entire organization is now easier. As setup time for software tools is now greatly reduced, the process of getting users up to speed can be much more efficient. Computers purchased for the organization’s centralized server installation can also be repurposed for a variety of uses.
- Security is greatly improved, largely thanks to the ability to centrally manage settings and applications. Giving IT the ability to remotely and actively manage and monitor computers is also an added layer of defense against security compromises.
- Costs over time are greatly reduced. There can be large initial CAPEX costs for a VDI deployment but, over time, savings are realized in the form of greater security, reduced rate of replacement for equipment, and increased user performance. In terms of cost for performance, VDI can be very powerful
- Increased software capabilities are available to individual users with a robust, in-place VDI. Granting a user new access to tools, data, or entire software ecosystems can be handled quickly and often, remotely.
Negatives of VDI
- As previously mentioned, there is a large CAPEX associated with the initial deployment. Savings here can be realized over time, but the most common reasons organizations decide against on-premise VDI is the cost.
- Initial workload for IT. Setting up the infrastructure and training new users to access a remote desktop may eat into time needed for other IT responsibilities. It is important that the functionality be rolled out smoothly and according to a thought-out plan so that the final processes are streamlined and work to reduce overall IT hours.
- In the event that a server does go down, multiple users will be affected. A system should implement layered backups in such a case.