What Is a Virtual Desktop? How Does It Work and What Are the Benefits
Author: Gabriel Bujold
End-user management and support is presently one of the most resource and time-intensive activities in today’s digital age. As such, many IT departments are slowly considering implementing virtual office environments with hundreds, or thousands of virtual desktops in operation.
This comes as no surprise as today’s intricate Information Technology (IT) environments, demand the minimization of costs, better performance, reduction of downtime, and more efficient utilization of resources.
So, What is a Virtual Desktop
Virtual desktops are essentially preconfigured images of operating systems and apps where the desktop environment is effectively separated from the physical device employed to access it.
In practice, different users can access their individual virtual desktops remotely over a secure network. As such, any end-point device, like a laptop, smartphone, or tablet, can be utilized to access a virtual desktop. So, in practice, the virtual desktop provider basically installs client software on the end-point device, then the user interacts with that software on the device.
Consequently, employees can access their work computers remotely, with the OS and data stored on a network that can be located anywhere using unique log-in credentials.
How does a Virtual Desktop Work?
Overall, a virtual desktop resembles and feels like a physical workstation. However, the user experience is typically better than a physical workstation due to powerful resources, like storage and back-end databases being readily available. Though users may not be able to save changes, or permanently install applications, depending on the virtual desktop configuration.
Generally, the beauty of virtual desktop technology is that there are different ways to set up a virtual desktop. Typically, standard computers are best run through a Desktop as a Service (DaaS), but portable hardware like iOS, Android, or Chromebook devices can best benefit from virtual desktops.
Despite each system delivering different advantages and purposes, changing between multiple disparate operating systems can be cumbersome. Essentially, lowering productivity each time an employee wants to switch devices to perform a specific task. However, with a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), this task can be seamless across different devices.
Fundamentally, a virtual desktop behaves in a manner similar to a traditional desktop. Ideally, your software programs, history, and personalization settings stay wholly intact and appear just as you’d left them at a day’s end. When you are done working on a project, simply save as you normally would, and the files shall be kept in a folder within a virtual server, accessible whether you are at the office or remotely located.
To achieve this, remote servers employ software referred to as a hypervisor to simulate the user desktop. This technology essentially enables the server to run multiple instances of the same operating system. As such, it’s perfect for sharing work between multiple devices. Or even a workplace setting with multiple different users coming and going from the office. Importantly, the hypervisor stores the system’s memory, processor, and other critical aspects of the operating system, effortlessly juggling different users with ease.
What are the Main Different Types of Virtual Desktops?
1) Remote Desktop Services (RDS)
With this virtual desktop type, only one instance of an application or OS is hosted on a shared server.
2) Client-side Hosted Virtual Desktops
With these virtual desktops, virtual machines are positioned to run atop the OS, allowing anytime access, anywhere.
3) Client Hypervisors
With this virtual desktop type, a client maintains a hypervisor directly on their desktop, allowing them to run multiple virtual machines concurrently.
4) Operating System Provisioned Virtual Desktop
With this virtual desktop type, the OS is sent to either a virtual machine in a data center, or a machine on a physical desktop. For each case, a constant connection to the data center is necessitated, therefore laptop use isn’t recommended, and actual desktops may need substantial hardware support.
Here, the virtual desktop isolates the application from the user’s operating system, running them completely independently. This separation essentially allows for a variety of apps to run on the same platform, simultaneously without interfering with each other.
What Are the Key Advantages of a Virtual Desktop?
- Simplified end-point management: End-points are laptops or desktops in this case. End-points, especially in large organizations, can be a nightmare to manage. You need to secure them, ensure their millions of apps and operating system are up-to-date, as they constitute parts that can easily break down
Furthermore, laptops can easily get lost and all information on them possibly stolen. Fortunately, a virtual desktop means the ‘actual’ desktop is always in your data center, and always accessible to the IT team. While laptop or desktop can take hours to weeks to prepare, and install an OS and apps, with a virtual desktop, you simply need to clone 1 of an image, which typically only takes minutes.
- Security: Many organizations nowadays maintain lots of sensitive data, or collaborate with multiple external vendors. With virtual desktops, it’s easier to monitor activity and restrict access to prevent data leakage. It is also easier to monitor network traffic and ensure anti-malware software and the OS is up-to-date.
- Mobility: Since the desktop isn’t on a fixed device and accessible from anywhere, users are truly mobile and can exploit full function apps, with the power of a desktop, from anywhere.
- Cost reduction: For large organizations with 200 or more staff, the ease of management translates into less time spent on labor-intensive activities around end-point management. It also means lesser security incidents, and lower device expenses. Especially, if they choose to adopt thin clients that need a fraction of the power of a conventional desktop laptop.
- Cheaper hardware replacement costs: The estimated average time of depreciation of the workstation is typically three years. Virtual desktop terminals don’t have many mechanical parts, therefore their MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) is about is significantly less than that of traditional machines.
The Purpose of a Virtual Desktop
As we sought to answer the question of what is a virtual desktop, we found that the key aim of virtual desktops is to better manage workloads by transforming traditional computing to be more scalable, efficient, and economical. Virtual desktops are quickly being adopted by organizations and the academic community due to their ability to offer a reduction of investment outlays and operating costs.
So, as you consider a virtual desktop, be sure to remember the following benefits it could purpose to your business:
- Secure and productive remote work on any device
- Improved compliance (i.e., via data encryption)
- Reduced costs of licensing and infrastructure
- Protection against outages and less downtime to foster productivity
- Simplified IT management
- Keeping sensitive application and user data more secure