What is Desktop Virtualization?

If virtualization means to create a virtual version of some entity, then desktop virtualization should mean creating one or multiple virtual copies of a desktop for independent use. Though, this quite explains the essence of desktop virtualization, This means, that using desktop virtualization, irrespective of the geographical location of the central machine, the users (which maybe on different kinds of devices or thin clients) remain connected to the host machine either through the established and available network.

Before moving to explain desktop virtualization in detail, understanding why it came in the first place is almost a pre-requisite for proper conceptualizing. Imagine a workplace where there are ten equal configuration desktop terminals, one for every employee. If the firm deals with designing, the firm would typically contain employees in the departments of design, sales, customer relations, marketing etc. Now, while the designing department would require high processing power from their terminal the other departments would typically use only the basic computational power of the machine. Thus, a huge amount of processing potential and storage capacity is wasted. Moreover, there will be a large number of features in each desktop which an average employee will never use. Inefficiency and inefficacy led the visionaries to think to have a centralized computational centre from where different machines can access and use the resource as per the need i.e. instead of spending capital to purchase maintain and upgrade underused expensive desktop computers, desktop virtualization is seen as a convenient alternative.

Thus, desktop virtualization, in essence means to move the workstation processing power and storage to a central workstation or a server. The users, then can easily access these “virtual desktops” through relatively cheaper terminals or thin clients. The process of desktop virtualization includes removing the operating system from the traditional workstation and relocating a virtual copy of it on a host server. Users can then access the virtualized workstation—all of the programs, applications and data—through a remote desktop client application from workstations, laptops, smart-phones or thin client terminals.

                                                    Exhibit: Desktop Virtualization

Advantages of desktop virtualization:
Desktop virtualization offers advantages over the traditional model, in which every computer operates as a completely self-contained unit with its own operating system, peripherals and application programs

  1. Cost: Overall expenses are reduced because resources can be shared and allocated to users on an as-needed basis.
  2. Remote Usage: Users can have a secured remote access to the computing station provided they have a computer and internet connectivity.
  3. Multi-tasking: Multiple virtual desktops can run on the physical workstation at the same. This allows users to “toggle” back and forth from different operating systems and different applications.
  4. Improved back-Up: The security of storage of user information is improved because all data is maintained and backed up in the data center.
  5. Flexibility: Even though all the resources are shared, all users can customize and modify their desktops to meet their specific needs. In this way, desktop virtualization offers improved flexibility compared with the simpler client/server paradigm.
  6. Usage of old terminals: Underpowered and older computers can also be used to run new applications by using the server’s higher processing power.

Limitations of desktop virtualization:

  1. Security Risk: There may be some loss of privacy and user autonomy if the network is not properly managed.
  2. Customization limitations: Centralization means less customization for end users.
  3. Maintenance: Challenges may have to be felt while setting up and maintaining drivers for printers and other peripherals.
  4. IP address related issues: Difficulty in running certain complex applications such as multimedia and problems keeping IP addresses on users' virtual machines matched with those at the data center may be experienced.
  5. Server Failure: If the host server fails, all the users cannot access their virtual desktops.

Some of the key players in the field of virtualization specializing in desktop virtualization are:

  1. VMware
  2. Dell
  3. Citrix
  4. Microsoft
  5. Matrix42
  6. Rackspace
  7. RingCube Technologies