Remote Desktops are not new. In fact they reach back to the dawn of time…well the 1990s. In that time they’ve come a long way and there appears to be more options than ever before. However, the same goal remains at their core: to allow you to connect remotely to a desktop, enabling you to be productive and access your Line of business (LOB) applications.
In the broadest sense, Remote Desktops can be split into two categories:
- Single user remote desktops, often referred to as VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure)
- Multi user remote desktops, referred to as Remote Desktop Services (RDS), Terminal Services (TS) or Server-Based Computing (SBC)
The single user remote desktop typically involves having a client OS virtual desktop (Windows 8.1 or Windows 10) per user. So 30 users = 30 virtual machines. Great if everyone needs to personalise their desktop and perhaps install applications.
Multi user remote desktops have many users with their own “desktop session” on a single Server based OS, such as Windows 2008 R2 or Windows 2012 R2. 30 users = 1 RDS server1. Great user per virtual machine (VM) density.
How do I choose what option is best for me?
How long is a piece of string? The best way is to engage with an IT partner to discuss your business requirements as to why you are looking into remote desktop solutions. However, there are some questions you can ask yourself to give you a better idea of what approach may be more suitable (see table).
Now we know the basics, let’s look at the options. This article will focus on Microsoft and Citrix based technologies as this is our area of expertise.
Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS)
As old as the hills and the “tried and tested” remote desktop solution. Many users log onto the same RDS server and share the server resources, leading to the best user density. The server is made to look and feel like a desktop OS, such as Windows 8.1. Being a server OS, there can be compatibility issues or licensing restrictions for your applications. It is also possible for a single user to “hog” resource on the server, degrading the experience for other users. However, there are measures to prevent this. RDS can be based on physical or virtual servers on any supported hypervisor, such as Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer or VMware vSphere. Users connect to their remote desktop via the Microsoft Remote Desktop Client which is now available for many platforms, including Mac, iOS and Android.
Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
Although late to join the party, Microsoft’s VDI offering uses Hyper-V to provision client OS virtual desktops; one for each user. This may be a nonpersistent pooled VM that returns to its original state when the user logs off, giving the same user experience every time based on a “master” or template image. Or it could be a static VM assigned to the user permanently. A statically assigned VM allows the user to make changes, such as install applications. VDI should give a user experience closest to using a physical PC and has better application compatibility. However, it can come at a higher hardware cost due to the amount of virtual machines required. One advantage of Microsoft’s VDI solution is that Hyper-V’s extended management tool, System Center Virtual Machine Manager (a paid for product) is not required whereas this is a requirement for Citrix XenDesktop VDI2. Users connect the same way as above, via the Remote Desktop Client.
This is as variation of Remote Desktop Services but instead of having a full blown desktop, the user accesses only the applications remotely. This is great if you have a subset of applications on your remote desktop servers and want to integrate the experience with your local desktop rather than having two desktops to manage. It can also be preferable for mobile users who may want to access their applications on devices with smaller screens where navigating a Windows desktop can be impractical. Again, access is via the Microsoft Remote Desktop Client.
XenApp builds upon Microsoft Remote Desktop Services with built-in features as image management for your XenApp servers, broader end-user device compatibility and a more adaptive connection protocol which can better handle higher latency, less bandwidth connectivity. Another advantage is that you can publish both Desktops and Applications from the same server, giving greater flexibility to your users and administrators. At present, this is not possible via Microsoft RDS/ RemoteApp with separate servers needed.
Seen as the market leaders in the “session hosted” remote desktop space, Citrix XenApp gives you a very good management layer in which to configure, provision and secure your remote desktop servers. Users connect via the Citrix Receiver (available for almost any device) using Citrix’s proprietary remoting protocol, HDX. As with Microsoft RDS, application compatibility can be an issue. As well as your Microsoft RDS licenses, you will need to purchase XenApp licenses.
Citrix’s VDI solution, XenDesktop uses the same architecture as XenApp so you can invest in a single technology and deploy either shared hosted, pooled VDI or private (static) virtual desktops to your users via a single management interface. It also allows you to deploy their agent to a physical PC and use the same infrastructure to remotely connect in the same way you would to a virtual desktop. However, for fairness it must be noted that you can achieve a similar function using Microsoft’s solution.
Another major plus with XenDesktop is that it is hypervisor agnostic, so you can deploy on Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware vSphere meaning you can use the same hypervisor already deployed and not have to run two hypervisor technologies. Like XenApp, you do have to buy additional licenses on top of the Microsoft licenses and, depending on the level of license, this will influence which features are available.
We’ve looked at five options available today and as mentioned before, there are others. However, whichever option you decide upon (after careful research and an assessment carried out by EACS, of course), you will ultimately get the same benefits:
- Greater flexibility through home working, roaming/mobile workers being able to access their Windows applications
- Broader device compatibility which is almost a must in today’s multidevice world, allowing the possibility of a BYOD scheme
- Centralised management of your desktops/applications
- Easier scalability. Adding 10 new users to a remote desktop solution should be quicker than provisioning 10 physical desktops with all the bits and pieces that go with the “traditional” desktop rollout
- Easier rollout to a new operating system; more true with RDS and Pooled VDI solution where a single image is used for multiple users
To find out more about the options around Remote/Virtual Desktop solutions, please call EACS. You can also arrange for a Desktop Assessment, where for a fixed fee we will analyse and assess your current infrastructure and requirements to make sure that you choose the right solution.