Wednesday, June 9, 2010

(empo-tymshft) VDI and thin clients in the 21st century

I've previously noted that there is nothing new under the sun, and that one could argue that a virtual desktop infrastructure, especially when used with thin clients, is similar to the multi-user computers that some of us were using three or four decades ago.

How did we get here? InformationWeek describes some recommended steps for setting up a virtual desktop infrastructure.

If security is of paramount importance, desktop virtualization can bring major, cost-effective improvements. By centralizing desktop resources in a secure data center, it's much easier to keep sensitive information from leaving the organization. Of course, depending on whether you use all thin clients or have some older PCs mixed in, data may still leak out through flash media, removable hard drives, and other peripherals, so standard endpoint security software should still be employed in tandem with VDI.

In addition, thin clients use only a few protocols to make and sustain connections to desktop images in the data center, in contrast with typical desktops that may use hundreds of different protocols, depending on applications. Fewer protocols always equals better security.

I've read the full report that is referenced on this page, and although I can't reprint what InformationWeek said about certain things, I can certainly link to Citrix's comments on Campbell Union High School.

Campbell Union High School District serves seven high schools, 7,500 students, and 650 employees. It supports about 2,500 desktop devices and 17 computer labs—each with a teacher and approximately 35 desktops—and over 100 applications, including Microsoft® Office, Photoshop CS and AutoCAD.

Sounds complex. And it is. And it's expensive.

Campbell Union had a four-year refresh cycle, which meant it had to retire and purchase approximately 500 machines a year. “It cost about $1,100 to replace a physical desktop, and that’s a half a million bucks a year [and] in four years, I’ll have the same problem.” In these difficult budgetary times, this is a large expense for a public school system.

But Campbell Union faced other issues. Because all applications had to be resident on the desktops, it “meant that as the kids move from classroom to classroom, they don’t have the same application from place to place. It also meant that kids in a class had access to applications that maybe they shouldn’t have, which creates distractions.” In addition, having 2,500 individual desktops meant a lot of time spent on maintenance: IT staff traveling to all the desktops to patch and maintain them, which was a logistical and budgetary challenge.

VDI, coupled with thin clients, addressed these issues.

“On a four-year basis, which if you look at the inventory refresh cycle alone, we’re going to save $1.2 million.”...

“We are virtualizing the computer labs,” Kanavel says. “Students can access their programs from home as well as the classroom. They can go class to class and those profiles follow them. This will give students the flexibility to continue work on projects at home as opposed to coming in after school and having to wait for a computer to become available.”

Hey, let's face it - when I was done working on my DEC PDP 11/70 terminal, I couldn't just log in from a Mac in my dorm room. For one thing, the Mac didn't exist yet.

Of course there are perceived drawbacks to such a system - I seriously doubt that many companies would put the client on their virtual desktops - but from a corporate perspective, the solution is mighty attractive.
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