What is VDI? Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) provides the backbone for a thin client computing setup. Operating systems and other applications are hosted on a central server; smaller, lightweight endpoints called ‘thin clients’ or ‘zero clients’—laptops, tablets, compact PCs—use server computing resources for OS and enterprise software. VDI is a popular way for a medium to large business to simplify IT operations and lower total cost of infrastructure.
Why use VDI? Companies realize ROI with more uptime for your production team, less work for IT.
- Lightens the maintenance load for IT
- Reduces user downtime
- Enables instant data recovery
- Simplifies troubleshooting protocols
When does VDI deployment make sense for a business?
- When there are 50-60 end users or more on the network
- If a number of endpoints are nearing obsolescence
- When rolling out enterprise applications that need more storage, memory, and CPU performance
What kind of hardware works best? The specifications depend on which applications you run, but a typical thin client system is comprised of virtualized servers, thin client endpoints, and a segmented network of shared storage devices.
Server Hardware for VDI
A VDI server distributes applications and computing power to users’ endpoints. Here are recommended specifications for server hardware for an entry-level VDI setup (60-120 endpoints):
- Dual, eight-core Intel Xeon server processors
- 192 GB DDR4 ECC server memory
- 12-16 drive bays for SAS enterprise drives
- Two or four 10-gigabyte Ethernet ports + RAID controller
- For GPU-intensive work: PCIe 3.0 x 16 Workstation graphics card
- See examples: (storage drives / memory expansions not included)
Thin client endpoints
Any device becomes a thin client computer by definition when VDI applications connect them to the host server. Thin client systems replace legacy office-standard desktop PCs. Thin clients have compact builds, small onboard storage, memory, lots of ports for peripherals, and Ethernet or Wi-Fi network connectivity.
IT administrators manage VDI deployments with server software: VMware ThinApp, Citrix XenApp, Microsoft App-V, Symantec AppStream are some of the popular options.
10 GbE storage area network (SAN)
Experts in VDI installments often recommend segmenting file storage duties apart from the application server doling out RAM and CPU to the endpoints. It makes network traffic between server and endpoint more orderly, and makes for less latency for end users. Setting up a storage area network (SAN)—a sub-network dedicated to storage devices—achieves this. Networking a SAN requires a 10 GbE managed switch, and connects to your VDI servers with fiber cable.
Optimizing storage setups in a VDI has direct implications to how well the system as a whole functions.
Case Study: Learn more about what a VDI rollout entails from an IT perspective.
What should an enterprise expect to gain from a VDI setup?
Kevin Patel, Service Assurance Technology Analyst at Xangati, a company that provides analytics tools and consultation for virtualized enterprise IT infrastructure, says the ROI you get from VDI should look like this:
Easy install of the ‘Golden Image’
Installing uniform disk images—and the QA process attached to it—is a time intensive project for IT working in larger networks. Adding new applications to the image is particularly problematic in the traditional client-server infrastructure: IT may need to update storage and re-configure a number of endpoints for the new image to function properly. VDI shifts this management of several endpoints to one machine (the server) in setting the entire computing environment as needed. IT can install the so-called ‘golden image’ across the infrastructure without tedious endpoint management.
Reduced IT costs
The one-touch approach to image management saves time, and therefore money. Since the data center hosts everything, the patches, drivers and applications have to only be installed once by the admins. Once installed, every user can benefit from the update based on the image. This helps in reducing the costs drastically.
Problems are resolved quickly
Since the images can be accessed from any linked workstation, server issues are less likely to affect the end users. The users facing hardware and virtualization problems on their system can go to another system, login and access their data and applications. This allows employees to continue working while the problem is being resolved. Network troubleshooting also gets much easier.
Security of data
In the event of hardware theft your data will be protected with a VDI in place. All your data is stored in a cloud infrastructure or a virtualized hybrid–cloud setup. Standard data center tools can be used to manage the security; you also have the additional security layer of instant recovery and backup. Central networked storage features of VDI ensures that data is not affected by individual computer issues.
Flexibility and control
Businesses can implement changes across an entire network of endpoints in just one action. You can roll out the updates for applications, antivirus and operating systems the next time a user logs in. Further, you can also control which software can be accessed by the users and which you want to keep restricted. This enables you to grant access to specific accounting software for an individual user instead of rolling it out across all users.
BYOD the way it is supposed to be
The biggest advantage of VDI is that it can work from any device without any pre-planning. The users can be located anywhere on the planet and have any device in hand, they can expect to use VDI with ease. The data can be accessed in just a few steps and have the security of knowing that their work and data is extremely safe.