Unlike the trending terms Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing, virtualization has taken a backseat to other buzzwords in the technology industry, perhaps due to its definition of services almost exclusively under the umbrella of IT. The core benefit of virtualization is the ability to separate processes like storage, networking, and calculations from hardware, and the collection of those technologies and strategies through client virtualization can be a powerful way for IT to allow employees to be more flexible.
The benefits of client virtualization aren’t without tradeoffs, however, and IT should consider the challenges in manageability, security, and hardware performance. There are several strategies for client virtualization, each with their own functions and limitations. Of the client virtualization models, the following can help define which would be the best in your enterprise:
- With virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), a user’s entire desktop environment is virtualized and executes in a virtual machine (VM) on a server. Users interact with a familiar client operating system user interface, and changes users make to their client environments exist between sessions. Solutions like Citrix XenDesktop and VMware Horizon are good examples of VDI and can be used for employees to access their virtual desktops through encrypted network sessions. Sensitive corporate data remains entirely on the corporate network and network administrators can control employee network access more granularly than they can with all-or-nothing network access through VPN.
- A terminal connection though a solution like Microsoft Terminal Services (unlike VDI, which runs a client operating system in a VM hosted on a server) is a client session initiated through a remote connection to the server operating system. While multiple users can connect to a server simultaneously, limitations to graphics, drivers, and the user interface that can characterize a server operating system will be part of the experience.
- With application virtualization through a service like Microsoft App-V, application workloads stream from a server to a client, but are isolated from the locally installed operating system. This can be a way to provide legacy applications to employees. Enterprises still needing to run Windows XP applications now that Microsoft has ended support may find this virtualization route beneficial, but such legacy applications can be huge security risks as any exploits found would be “zero-day” by nature as no future patches will be made available.
- Operating system image streaming is exactly what it sounds like: The operating system for a device is streamed from a server rather being installed locally, but all computing is handled locally.
- Under client-side VMs, VM operating systems and applications are bundled as VMs that run on client machines themselves, rather than on a server.
- Remote access is a common occurrence when a user accesses a physical computer remotely through the corporate virtual private network (VPN).
- User virtualization is when a user's profile, settings, and data are decoupled from the operating system and hardware of any given device and stored in a centralized data share either in the data center or in the cloud.
Client virtualization focuses heavily on flexibility, both for users and for IT by maintaining legacy applications, providing Windows applications to mobile workers, and supporting remote users. All of these examples provide multiple ways of using and deploying client virtualization, but there is no one, correct way to use client virtualization in all cases.
For a longer look at which of the services from companies like Citrix and VMware might be best for your enterprise, read the Prowess white paper Understanding Today’s Client Virtualization Ecosystem.