Simplest VDI

  • Commonly when talking about doing VDI we have many things that we associated with it such as golden images, ephemeral instances, storage deduplication, connection brokering and more. Those things are important and valuable and common, to be certain. But they are also unnecessary to tackle VDI and are not appropriate for all scenarios. In some cases, and many, in fact, in the SMB space, VDI can be done much more cost effectively and simply using other approaches.

    The simplest approach to VDI, one that is generally only applicable to very small shops or very small VDI needs, is one of brokerless, static VDI images. Using this approach we simply create a pool of VDI resources and, in most cases, assign them statically to the users who need them.

    For example, if Sally, John and Mike each need a VDI instance, you might install three Windows 10 VMs. Or perhaps Mike needs Windows 8.1 instead of Windows 10, you would install Windows 8.1 for him. You can mix and match easily as the instances are not tied to one another. While this approach does not make use of all of the heavily hyped VDI features available from products like XenDesktop or VMware View, it is low cost, very easy to deal with at small scale, very easy to understand and incredibly flexible. And it is very easy to understand: each user gets a permanent virtual desktop that mirrors what they would have had previously in the physical world. No special VDI skills needed whatsoever. VDI leveraging simple, traditional virtualization.

    Now, without new fangled VDI tool sets, how will users access these resources? There are options here, of course, but nearly always you would use the included RDP protocol that is part of Windows and very efficient as well as being generally well known to end users. If you have savvy users they may be able to use nothing more than DNS standards to discover and attach to these resources. More often IT would make a configuration shortcut and put it on the end users desktops or similar. Something to make the experience extra easy. This is very low effort at small scale, free and easy to maintain and update.

    Users on the LAN have it the easiest. In a remote user scenario you could have users connect back to the office by means of a traditional VPN such as OpenVPN or Cisco's IPsec VPN. This will work just fine. Or you could use a more modern software defined network like ZeroTier in the same way. You need not put your entire infrastructure under SDN, you could do it only for the remote users and the pool of VDI machines.

    Of course, you could also expose RDP directly out through your firewall to the Internet, but this is not recommended as it is neither particularly easy to use and it creates security concerns. So while this would work, it would rarely, if ever, be done.

    We should also consider that having several users with several VDI resources available could, instead of treating them as a one to one setup, could access "whatever machine is available." However, without a brokering mechanism this would be cumbersome and non-transparent to end users so generally avoided.

    Resiliency of this VDI approach would be provided, if needed, by the underlying platform. This could be something like VMware ESXi attached to a SAN with high availability features enabled, or it could be handled by something like a hyperconverged platform, like Scale HC3, which would also handle all storage replication and automatic failover of the VDI instances in cases where there was handware failure. And, of course, being virtualization things like snapshots would be used to protect the systems against infections, corruption, damage from updates and such with simple point in time rollback recovery just a click away with good procedures.

    It is not common to think of VDI in such simplistic terms, and yet for many SMBs or special niche cases in enterprises, this simple approach might be exactly what makes sense for your organization. Keep an open mind when approaching VDI, it might not be as complex as you first assume.

  • I agree with this... That is about as bare-bones as you can get while still being considered VDI.

  • We in fact have this kind of setup for a few use cases our selves.

    Very simple, setup a VM, and provide end users direct access to that system. Rather than it being a system that host services such as exchange or file services.

  • I wonder how the cost savings of this would compare to setting up a full blown VDI environment.

    You eliminate the need for things like VMware View, and the VMs that go into managing that (connection brokers, VM Pool management, etc). That cuts down on the cost if Windows Server licenses...

    It does little to off-set the cost of Thin/Zero Clients.

  • Yep, implemented the same, for a majority of our clients... it's quick n easy to deploy, and manage .. This, along with Thin-clients, has been a winning combo for us .. . works like a charm every time ..

    Going a bit off-topic - Earlier, this year , we were contacted by a vendor, pushing these really really dirt cheap China-made thin-clients (They go by the name Thnder-X) ... So, for $18 a pop (only if you buy a minimum of 50 Units), it offers : -

    Arm Cortex 1.8ghz CPU
    1GB RAM
    512MB on-board Flash
    100/1000 Network Port
    3 USB ports (2xUSB 2.0, 1x USB 3)
    1 HDMI Port + 1 VGA Port support upto 1920x1080 / 32 bit colour depth / Dual Display
    Audio Port.
    7.5W Power consumption
    Windows CE

    We were rather skeptical at first, so the vendor gave us a unit to demo ... We're using it on a daily basis for around a month.. Worked well for most basic office tasks (Documents, Spreadsheets, Emails, Browsing, Accounting etc) ... Videos didn't do too well, but still, not as bad as we were expecting ..

    The only catch is that it comes with a 6 month replacement warranty...

    We bought around 10 units, and gifted 4 to a client ... at $18/unit, I don't mind gifting these to 20 MangoLassi users ... you pay for your own shipping ... hehehe

    Anyway, the client has been using these in a production environment (on the above setup), for over 6 months, and they've been pretty happy with it, so far ..