Desktop of the future

It might be in the cloud, it might be virtual or it might be the size of a brick. But it won't be the traditional PC tower and monitor.

Metro Health Hospital, a healthcare system serving 130,000 patients across Michigan, is already using what some consider the desktop of the future. The hospital has rolled out server-hosted virtual desktops to every employee no matter where they are or what client device they use.

Follow along a slideshow of the future of desktops that are happening today.

While employees within the hospital primarily use thin clients to access their virtualized desktops, those outside the hospital can use whatever device they want, says Chris House, senior network analyst at the healthcare firm.

"It works in the hospital, but it also works over the Internet because it's just Remote Desktop [Protocol]," House says, explaining that VMware's Virtual Data Infrastructure (VDI) uses RDP to communicate with the client devices.

The only data that passes across the network are mouse clicks and screen changes, ensuring optimal performance. But unlike other remote presentation technologies, such as Citrix Xen App (formerly Presentation Server), users aren't accessing only applications, but are actually able to access their complete Windows XP desktop just as if it were local.

The overall effect is greater security and flexibility — without a hit on productivity. "We have remote transcriptionists who deal with medical records and information, and they're able to access their sessions remotely from their homes over their high-speed Internet connection and then work that way," House says. "They get our desktop, and we don't have to worry about what they're using as their home computer."

Metro Health's setup is also far more secure than traditional PCs. Not only have the virtual desktops been locked down so that employees can't use non-sanctioned peripherals such as CD drives and USB sticks, but with VDI, the actual remote PC sessions run on centralized VMware ESX servers in the hospital's secure data center. This ensures that the hospital complies with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations, as sensitive patient data never leaves the hospital. "It's very secure and easy to lock down," he says.

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