Virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI, refers to the infrastructure used to provision and manage virtual machines and provide virtual desktops to users. Those users may connect to those machines from an existing computer or even via a tablet or mobile device.
How Does VDI Work?
A VDI system is one where the organization has a set of operating system images that run on virtual machines that are managed via a hypervisor. Users connect to the VMs via endpoint devices which could be desktops, thin clients or even mobile devices.
Persistent vs Non-Persistent Deployments
Persistent virtual machines save their status between uses. An employee could log on to a persistent VM from their laptop, desktop or mobile device and benefit from having access to applications set up how they like them as well as all of their files. Persistent deployments are useful for knowledge workers who need access to "their own" environment, but they require more careful management than non-persistent deployments.
In contrast, non-persistent, or stateless, VMs are ones that don't save their status between uses or that have their configuration reset on a fixed schedule. One common use of stateless VMs is in education. A computer science student could log in to a virtual machine configured with a specific stack of development applications to ensure all students have a smooth experience when working through learning materials.
Benefits and Limitations of VDI
VDI is a powerful and flexible technology but one that carries significant overheads versus certain other virtualization solutions. If your use -case aligns well with VDI, it can be a wise choice. The benefits of using a VDI with hypervisors include:
Client flexibility. Low-end hardware can be used as a thin -client to access virtual machines, allowing employees to perform more resource-intensive computing tasks without needing physical access to powerful hardware.
Improved data security. All data is stored on the virtual machine's host, rather than on the client. Therefore, if the client is lost or stolen, the risk of data theft is greatly reduced.
Improved application security. Hypervisors allow host hardware to run multiple guest operating systems, each of which is a sandboxed environment. If an application running on one guest OS is compromised, other guest OSes are insulated from the effects.
Increased scalability. As long as the physical computing resources are available to spin up additional virtual machine copies of an existing working environment, it's relatively easy to add them.
Increased mobility. Users can connect to their virtual machines from anywhere with relatively low-spec hardware. Mobile salespeople, remote workers and offsite engineers can access the tools they need — wherever they are.
However, not all use-cases suit VDI. In some situations, remote desktop services or using containers instead of a full hypervisor setup may make more sense because containers are more lightweight. Microservices are an example of where stateless containers can be used to great effect, for example. The downsides of VDI include:
Increased tech support burden. Some users may be confused by having a "desktop that runs on their desktop," leading to support calls because they can't find their files or applications
Increased infrastructure costs. The requirement for a powerful host to run the hypervisor and an IT team that can manage the security, virtual machine backups and other issues could be prohibitive for some organizations:
Dependency on an internet connection. Users must have a reasonably high-speed and low-latency internet connection to have a smooth experience controlling a remote virtual machine. This may not be an option if the users are in a rural area.
Common VDI Use Cases
VDIs can be useful for people who do a lot of their work while on the road or for organizations that need to be able to provision machines for their users quickly, such as:
Call center operatives
Some salespeople and engineers
Remote workers who use highly specialized software (e.g. animators, graphic artists, CAD workers or researchers)
Knowledge workers who deal with sensitive information
VDI lends itself particularly well to environments where workers need to use resource-hungry software (such as researchers running simulations) or access highly sensitive information, where it would be a risk to allow them to have data on their local machines. It's also useful in environments with seasonal employees and a relatively high turnover because machines can be provisioned and shut down easily.
Is VDI Right for You?
VDI could be right for your organization if:
You need to be able to onboard new users quickly and easily
You need to provide access to specialist software, and already have hardware that can run the VM clients
Your organization has a BYOD policy
You have remote knowledge -workers
You have kiosk workers at multiple sites, all accessing the same database to perform specialist tasks
Security is a priority
You have an in-house IT team that has the skills to manage the infrastructure
Your remote workers have stable, high-speed internet connection
VDI is less suited to organizations where remote workers are performing a simple, specific task that could be handled by a tablet or dedicated device. It's also not suitable for mobile workers who may not always have access to the internet or organizations that lack the hardware or in-house IT skills to manage virtual desktop deployments.
How to Get Started
If you've decided that virtualization makes sense for your business and would like to use VDI, consider the following:
Whether you'll use persistent or non-persistent VMs
How you'll back up and restore VM data
Which hypervisor solution you'll use
The resource allocation (and burst allocations) for each virtual machine
The licensing requirements of any software you'll be running in the VM (each deployment may count as a seat)
Any datacenter costs associated with the host machine
If you'd like to learn more about virtualization and how Veeam's Hyper-V backup solution could help you protect your data, contact us for a consultation.
What is the difference between VDI and Desktop Virtualization?
The terms VDI and Desktop Virtualization are often used interchangeably but do refer to slightly different things. Desktop virtualization is a broad term that encompasses Remote Desktop Services, VDI and other techniques for provisioning and managing virtual machines.
What is the difference between VDI and Virtual Machines (VMs)?
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure refers to the tools, including software, used to manage Virtual Machines. The VDI includes hypervisors, load balancers, connection brokers and other tools required to manage the VMs that users then connect to remotely.
VDI vs. RDS
VDI and RDS (Remote Desktop Services) both use virtualization technologies, but they work in different ways. With RDS, the user establishes a remote desktop connection to a centralized Windows server that they're sharing with other users. With VDI, the user connects to a virtual machine that is created for their exclusive use.
VDI vs. DaaS
Desktop as a Service (DaaS) makes use of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) to allow users to access virtual desktops. However, with DaaS, the virtual machines are usually cloud-hosted and managed by a third party, whereas VDI is often managed in-house using machines located at an on-premises datacenter.
What is virtualization?
Virtualization allows us to make more efficient use of computing resources by adding an abstraction layer over existing computer hardware so that it can be divided up into multiple virtual machines. Each virtual machine behaves as if it was a separate computer, sharing the underlying hardware.
What is an example of a VDI?
Some examples of VDI software include VMware Horizon and Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Other VDI tools include Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops and Nutanix Cloud Infrastructure.
Are VPN and VDI the same?
A VPN is not the same as a VDI. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and refers to a form of encrypted connection that can be used both for standard internet traffic and to secure connections between remote devices and a company network. VDIs are used to manage virtual desktops. In some cases, a person might use a VPN to access a virtual machine provisioned using VDI.
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