You may remember that Server 2008 brought us the RemoteApp capability, in which we could let users “remote into” a single program rather than an entire desktop, as users might do with Remote Desktop. Microsoft is now providing yet another alternative to conventional Terminal Services, alluded to in the buzz phrase “Virtual Desktop Interface.” What does that mean?
Terminal Services been handy as a many-to-one solution (many users sharing the same remote environment). However, TS has had its share of problems, which have included (among other things) issues with printing and application compatibility. In addition, individual users don’t have full admin rights on their TS sessions. The Virtual Desktop Interface concept sidesteps some of these problems by providing users with their own personal virtual machine to which they can connect remotely. (Of course shared VM’s can also be available if appropriate.) The plumbing behind VDI is Hyper-V and System Center Virtual Machine Manager.
VDI requires more back-end horsepower than Terminal Services does, and frankly Terminal Services works fine for many thousands of people today. But VDI could be a good opportunity for organizations with a significant number of contractors who don’t have corporate-issue PC’s but still need a fully customizable work environment in the organization. Microsoft even provides a specially licensed version of Vista for that scenario: “Windows Vista Centralized Enterprise Desktop.” The ongoing struggle to find the best balance between distributed and centralized computing continues.