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Microsoft VDI – it exists and it works

I really enjoy going to technical community events even the ones that are run by Vmware, but you would think from the Vmware ones that Microsoft doesn’t have a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution at all.  I don’t intend to turn this blog into a feature comparison of the two or anything like that I just want to explain what there is and that it does actually work.  I do have a private theory that anything really good from Microsoft is often not widely publicised and the VDI stack is a good example of this.

Firstly what is VDI and how does it differ from good old remote desktop services (nee terminal services) that has been around for years and why is there a need for a new one?

VDI is the business of providing a pool or individual virtual machines running windows client to your users. In an extreme example you would migrate each users desktop PC to a Virtual Machine (VM) and then run all those VMs on a server and replace the desktop PCs with thin client devices.  This can achieve some power savings and save you having to manage those physical machines, however you still have to manage the OS in each virtual machine and the applications users want to run in pretty much the same way as you did before.  Those backend servers have got to be pretty powerful too so they can run all those VMs plus they have to be bought and paid for. 

I have already written this post showing that you can support more users per server with Remote Desktop Services (RDS) than you can with VDI so why bother with VDI, especially when you virtualise applications with App-V onto the standard RDS desktop thus giving each users the apps they need on a group by group basis? Some applications aren’t easily susceptible to this approach like trading systems in banks, CAD  and other compute intensive solutions such as development environments while VDI enables these.

Given that VDI can result in higher costs than RDS, is is essential that VDI is managed efficiently and that you get the most out of the hardware and licenses you are using. Given my views on RDS you might be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft isn’t serious about VDI?  A quick review of the recent developments that affect VDI shows that it is :

  • Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2 sp1 has two killer features :
    • dynamic memory increases user VM density as you can set minimal memory startup for each VM and then implement rules about each of these can be assigned more memory as needed and which VMs win when overall memory is low.
    • RemoteFX allows the graphics card in the physical server to be virtualised and shared across multiple VMs for applications that need more graphics power
  • System Center has extensive VDI support for example:
    • The provisioning of client VMs from predefined templates in Virtual Machine Manger together with process automation in Opalis and Service Manager
    • patch management and software inventory in Configuration manager
    • Incident management in Service Manager
  • Remote Desktop Services provides access to the virtual machines in exactly the same way as it does to traditional remote desktops. This means you can provide one portal where users including remote users can get the desktop they have been assigned.

The resources on remote desktop are already pretty extensive but to help get you started on VDI then I would ask you join join Sarah Mannion  and myself  next Tuesday (10th May) for our TechDays Online session on VDI . Sarah is the expert on VDI in Microsoft and advisers enterprise customers on deployment and best practice, so do try and make it.