Microsoft Describes Strategies for Optimized Desktop Virtualization

Dynamic delivery to provide solutions that enable workers to work "anywhere at any time."

Microsoft has began to explain in more detail its "optimized desktop" concept and strategies for "dynamic delivery" that use its application virtualization, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), and Remote Desktop Services technologies.

The concept of the optimized desktop outlined in a blog post by Ruben Spruijt, a Microsoft MVP (most valuable professional). The company's aim with dynamic delivery is to provide solutions that enable workers to work "anywhere at any time," Spruijt explained. The necessary infrastructure depends on where the applications will be executed and how the applications are delivered.

Spruijt cited the newly released App-V 4.6 Service Pack 1 as a "key component of the Optimized Desktop" because of its delivery speed and easier application support. He also touted MED-V 2.0, also released as part of MDOP 2011, as a way to migrate to Windows 7 yet still run Internet Explorer 6-based Web apps via VDI technology.

Customer Implementations

Microsoft also showcased the work of three customers that have been implementing Microsoft's virtualization technologies. They described the technology use in a roundtable Webinar that is now available on demand. The roundtable was moderated by Michael Silver, vice president and research director at Gartner.

Silver said there are currently about four technologies used to accomplish desktop virtualization. The most mature technology is server-based computing with remote presentation. Second, there is application virtualization, which isolates apps and the operating system. A third scenario is home machine virtualization in which users run two different operating systems on the same hardware. Finally, there's "hosted virtual desktop" technology, Silver said, although Microsoft tends to use the term "VDI" instead.

According to Microsoft's roundtable video, Royal Caribbean Cruises started using Microsoft's MED-V last year to address a problem with Citrix Apps not running properly in Internet Explorer 8. In another case, International IT service provider Login Consultants used Microsoft's App-V to accelerate OS migrations and help with app deployments. Login Consultants used App-V because it was experiencing difficulty in packaging about 70 percent of its apps.

Kraft Foods used Microsoft's virtualization technologies to enable the "consumerization of IT." Employees have a choice of devices to use according to Kraft's bring-your-own-PC concept, and Kraft's IT shop virtualizes various apps to enable anytime, anywhere access on those devices. Kraft uses Citrix XenDesktop in a hosted virtual desktop scenario. Management is accomplished via Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager solution. Kraft needs to support about 4,000 apps across 75,000 to 80,000 clients around the world.

In addition to the presentations, questions were allowed via text messaging for a few minutes during the roundtable. A transcript of Microsoft's answers can be found here.

Reasons for Virtualization

Microsoft has found that its customers are generally looking to use desktop virtualization for three key business reasons, according to Gavriella Schuster, general manager for Windows product management.

"One is they want to give their employees the flexibility to work anywhere," Schuster said in a phone interview. "The second is they want to help their managers improve compliance by centralizing the control and managing access to confidential information across the organization. The third thing is they want to allow their IT pros to manage physical and virtual assets through a single centralized platform."

Microsoft aims to give its customers choice with its virtualization technologies, according to Schuster. "We want to give customers the flexibility to choose," she said, "whether they are specifically trying to virtualize applications and get a handle on application and lifecycle management, or whether they are trying to solve problems like [Windows] XP compatibility or the security of their data that they may solve through VDI."

Microsoft's Virtualization Model

Microsoft's model for virtualization has three layers, Schuster explained. The first layer allows personalization.  "There's a user-state virtualization, and that is all about your data and your personalization. And we have technologies within Windows 7 itself that do folder redirection and roaming user profiles."

The second layer enables application virtualization. "[There is a second layer], which is the application layer, and for that we see application virtualization being the solution," Schuster said. "It can come in two flavors. One is App-V, which is part of MDOP, and the second is Remote Desktop Services' RemoteApp. So you are hosting the application in the datacenter and it is just in the display mode out to the user on their desktop, and that really separates the application from the operating system and prevents application conflicts because it doesn't change the Windows installation, the files or the registry -- it expedites the testing, delivery, and the updating of the application."

The third layer is the OS virtualization layer. "You can do that [OS virtualization] in three different ways," Schuster explained. "You can allow a single PC to run a virtual machine side by side, and that's what we would do through MED-V, and that addresses legacy application compatibility issues, or you could host the desktop in a data center, and you could either do that through VDI where each user has their own personalized virtual machine in a datacenter, or you could do that through Remote Desktop Services, which used to be called Terminal Services, where you have multiple users accessing sessions, but they are not personalized sessions."

Virtualization and Licensing

Licensing is always a complicated minefield to negotiate, but accessing Microsoft's virtualization technologies comes about through two licensing options. Organizations can either gain virtualization rights through Software Assurance (SA) or they can purchase Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licensing.

"Many of our customers are in Enterprise Agreements with Microsoft, and that gives them Windows SA," Schuster explained. "For those customers, they already get the ability to use all of these types of virtualization, as well as to access the desktop in the data center. For customers who don't have SA, or for customers who are just using thin clients and don't have an underlying Windows license, those are the customers who would purchase the VDA subscription."

The VDA license gives the customer the rights to Windows 7 Enterprise edition, and it gives them the rights to run Windows ThinPC (WinTPC) on the endpoint device. WinTPC is the Windows 7-based successor to Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs, which was based on Windows XP. WinTPC is a locked-down version of Windows 7 that can be used to support legacy hardware and thin clients via VDI technology. Microsoft is planning to release a technology preview of WinTPC by the end of this month, according to a blog post by Schuster.

VDA licensees also get the option to purchase MDOP use rights, but it's an extra cost, Schuster explained. "[VDA] also gives the ability to purchase MDOP, so MDOP, in both cases, is an additional subscription license, but it's very low priced. It's traditionally around $7 to $10 per PC per year for all of the features in MDOP, and that's where [customers] would get App-V and MED-V specifically for virtualization."

Organizations can use Microsoft's RemoteFX technology, enabled through Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1, to enable rich applications on thin clients, but they may need to purchase new thin clients to make that happen. Windows ThinPC offers an option to reuse existing client devices for remote access in a VDI scenario, which can save on hardware costs, according to Schuster.

"One of the challenges of organizations thinking of moving to a VDI environment -- where they host a desktop in a data center and they want to display it down to end user's device -- [is that] the most cost-effective way to doing that long term is through a thin client," Schuster said. "In order to get started, they'd have buy thin clients for each of their users and then invest in the hardware in a data center to create another virtual machine for that end user. That's expensive for them and there's a lot of overhead, so with Windows ThinPC they can reuse the existing hardware that they have."

She added that the older hardware can be turned into a thin PC and then locked down. Users won't save documents onto the local hardware; instead, they'd use the virtual machine desktop that's located in the datacenter for saving files.

For more information about the VDA license, see Microsoft's document, "Licensing Windows for VDI Environments" (PDF download).

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