Don’t Fence Me In: VDI, Session Virtualization … or Both?

Hi, Max Herrmann here again from the Remote Desktop Services team at Microsoft. Lots of news and activity this week at VMworld in San Francisco, including Microsoft’s open letter to VMware customers. Today, I wanted to discuss a question that is important to our large base of session virtualization customers: How do you decide between virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and session virtualization? And if you have already successfully deployed session virtualization, should you replace it with VDI?

Session virtualization is a centralized desktop computing architecture where multiple users share a single operating system and application image within individual sessions on a Windows Server host. Some key benefits of this architecture are streamlined desktop management, flexible access, and simplified regulatory compliance, all realized by routing the end users to a single desktop image in the datacenter. This sounds a lot like the promise of VDI, specifically of what some vendors, including Microsoft, refer to as (virtual) desktop pools.

This one-to-many relationship between a (more or less) static desktop image and a user population is possible today both with identically configured virtual desktop pools and with session virtualization. Both approaches make the most sense when personalization of the desktop or administrative access to the desktop is not critical for the user’s tasks, or not desirable from an IT support standpoint. This is often the case with so-called task workers, where high user productivity and providing users with a consistent and appropriate user experience specific to their task are important. So which technology—VDI with virtual desktop pools or session virtualization—should a customer deploy? The white paper that we recently published, Achieving Business Value through Microsoft VDI Together with Session Virtualization, provides you with some criteria to consider in your decision. Please also check out Michael’s blog on this subject; he argues that “… pooled VDI can be expensive and painful” – certainly when compared with session virtualization.

Now, what about “personal” virtual desktops: virtual desktops that are dedicated to specific users? What about those customers who deploy a combination of VDI and session virtualization? Well, with desktop virtualization, it always comes down to the use case and the worker profile you are targeting; there is really no one size fits all, and the white paper will actually provide some good, common sense guidance there as well.

The main point is that with Remote Desktop Services you don’t have to choose a single model. Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2008 R2 provides customers with a comprehensive platform to explore and deploy these different scenarios, while a whole ecosystem of Remote Desktop Services software and hardware partners provides powerful solutions designed to meet a much broader set of customer requirements. For example, while you could deploy Microsoft’s inbox solution for virtual desktop pools on its own in low complexity environments, environments with higher complexity scale virtual desktop pools on top of Hyper-V should be implemented in conjunction with partner solutions such as Citrix XenDesktop. And, because a blog from me without the mention of Microsoft RemoteFX wouldn’t be complete, let me add that you can use products such as vWorkspace from Quest Software or PowerTerm WebConnect from Ericom today with Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 (now in beta) to experience and enhance a VDI or session virtualization environment with RemoteFX. Check out Ericom’s solution for managed access to RemoteFX desktops; you can find more information on their offering here. Or take a look at this RemoteFX demo which shows some of the work Quest have done to accelerate RemoteFX for the WAN.

If you haven’t already done so, I suggest that you download the beta of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, and familiarize yourself with the new virtualization capabilities in it. And make sure you give our partners’ solutions consideration as well, as they will undoubtedly make your life easier as you try and scale up your planned server-hosted desktop environment. As you conduct your evaluation, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Sessions scale, while personal virtual desktops let you give your users more control. Use your own needs—not the limitations of a technology—to decide which model(s) fit(s) your business best.