It can be daunting for IT administrators to sort through the many vendors that offer desktop and application virtualization software to find the right product that fits their organization's size and meets their specific needs.
For many organizations, the most important factor when considering a desktop and application virtualization platform is its ability to deliver a comprehensive VDI that meets the highest quality performance and usability standards. Two critical components in effective VDI are the hypervisor and the remote display protocol, which work together to deliver virtual desktops to users.
Some vendors provide their own hypervisors, some use third-party hypervisors and some support both options. For example, Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) runs on Hyper-V, and Citrix XenDesktop runs on XenServer. XenDesktop is also compatible with third-party hypervisors, such as VMware vSphere and Nutanix Acropolis. Other products, including Ericom Software's Connect and Parallels Inc.'s Remote Application Server (RAS), are hypervisor-agnostic and can support most major hypervisors, including XenServer, Hyper-V and VMware ESXi.
Vendors also support different remote display protocols to deliver virtual desktops. RDS can use Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or RemoteFX. VMware Horizon can use Blast Extreme, PC over IP or RDP. XenDesktop supports the Independent Computing Architecture and Citrix HDX. Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.'s FusionAccess uses its own Huawei Desktop Protocol. Systancia AppliDis Fusion uses RDP, as does NComputing Co. Ltd.'s Verde VDI, which also supports the Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments.
With extensive research into virtual desktop and app virtualization products, TechTarget editors focused this series of articles on vendors with considerable current market share who offer both virtual desktop and app virtualization capabilities. Our research included Gartner and TechTarget surveys.
The combination of hypervisors and protocols can make a significant difference in desktop delivery. IT teams should fully test a product's capabilities to ensure that it can meet their current and future needs. This is especially important for teams supporting multi-hypervisor deployments.
Admins should also verify what OSes the product's server and client components require, as well as what OSes the virtual desktops can run. For example, AppliDis servers can run on Windows Server 2003 or later; the AppliDis clients can run on Microsoft Windows, Linux, Unix, Apple macOS and several other platforms; and the AppliDis virtual desktops can run Windows 7 or later.
In addition, admins must ensure that a product supports other essential features, such as scalability, device redirection, file management and flexible printing. A product should also be able to support both persistent and nonpersistent desktops if necessary.
Before deciding on a product, admins should know exactly how their users work and what it takes for them to do their jobs, and then evaluate each product accordingly.
Choosing a desktop and application virtualization product based on its app virtualization capabilities is tricky because admins can implement application virtualization in different ways. For example, some products stream the application and run it directly on the desktop.
Admins planning to virtualize their desktops and applications are usually looking for a platform that runs the applications on a remote server, independent of the local desktops -- the type offered by platform vendors such as Citrix, VMware, Parallels and Huawei.
Admins should understand the technology the vendor provides and account for many of the same issues associated with VDI, such as the protocol used to deliver the applications or the ability to scale the application deployment. They should also understand the range of applications the product supports, and they should emphasize performance and availability. It is important to understand how vendors distinguish their products and what features they provide.
For example, Citrix offers both XenDesktop and XenApp as stand-alone platforms. Organizations that want to implement both VDI and virtual applications, however, only need to purchase XenDesktop because it includes all the XenApp features. VMware works similarly. Horizon 7 supports desktop and application virtualization, but VMware also offers Horizon Apps for customers who only want to virtualize applications.
NComputing, on the other hand, offers three virtualization products:
- Verde VDI provides a virtual desktop product for small to midsize VDI deployments.
- vSpace Pro is a session-based platform for delivering desktop and application virtualization from a single OS.
- RX-HDX thin client is a Raspberry Pi 3 platform optimized for XenDesktop and XenApp, which means users can access virtual applications from the client.
Other vendors follow a simpler model, providing one product that delivers both desktop and application virtualization. These include Ericom Connect, Huawei FusionAccess, Parallels RAS, Systancia AppliDis Fusion and Microsoft RDS, which includes the RemoteApp component for delivering applications.
Admins should also ensure that the platform delivers any other features they require, such as the ability to run applications in isolation or to support legacy software. The product should also support both virtual desktops and applications in a unified deployment so administrators can implement either type without running into conflicts.
A desktop and application virtualization platform should deliver the tools admins need to effectively deploy and manage their virtual desktops and applications, as well as to manage users, allocate resources, and scale systems up and down. Most vendors offer a centralized portal of some type for handling the different components.
For instance, Ericom Connect provides a single web-based administration console where admins can carry out all management and monitoring tasks and control access to various components within the deployment. The Connect console also offers Launch Analysis, a unique feature that enables administrators to proactively analyze a user's connection to an application or desktop.
Every product offers unique capabilities. Horizon 7 includes Instant Clone for just-in-time desktop and application delivery. Parallels RAS includes the Test Guest VM Template Wizard to automate testing and deployment operations.
Admins should carefully review all the features related to management and fully test the product for issues related to administering the various components and integrating with systems such as Active Directory.
Admins should also assess how they would implement a product in a data center. For example, admins can deploy Microsoft RDS on premises through Windows Server or in the cloud through Microsoft Azure. Huawei FusionAccess, on the other hand, is a cloud-based platform that runs on the FusionSphere open cloud platform, which admins can install in their own data centers or private clouds.
Admins should ensure that the product they pick can meet their organization's data security and privacy requirements, protecting data both at rest and in motion. This applies to communications between the client devices and virtual desktops or applications, authentication processes, personal information, application files, configuration settings and more.
Vendors offer a variety of protection options. For example, AppliDis Fusion protects resources with IPdiva Secure, a Systancia cybersecurity product that facilitates secure remote access to corporate applications, data and networks. Compare this to Verde VDI, which has a secure Linux foundation that incorporates a dynamic provisioning model and secure protocols to prevent unauthorized access and protect against malware, viruses and data leakage.
Citrix integrates NetScaler Gateway into XenDesktop and XenApp. NetScaler Gateway provides administrators with granular data and application-level control, while supporting remote users wherever they choose to connect. VMware offers its own share of security features, such as Smart Policies with Streamlined Access, which enables Horizon 7 users to securely access desktops and applications through a unified digital workspace.
RAS also provides various mechanisms for safeguarding resources, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption, two-factor authentication, and application-level authorization through touch ID or passcodes. Ericom Connect takes a similar approach, supporting SSL and Transport Layer Security, single sign-on, and two-factor authentication.
Mobility and the distributed workforce
Most virtualization products now include a mix of features for supporting today's geographically dispersed and mobile workforce. Even Microsoft RDS provides Google Android and Apple iOS versions of its Remote Desktop client.
Microsoft is not alone. FusionAccess users can also access virtual desktops and applications from Android and iOS devices, as can Ericom Connect users.
However, because screen size often limits how effectively users can work with virtual resources on their mobile devices, most virtualization products still target users on desktops, laptops and, to a lesser degree, larger tablets. For example, the Horizon client is available for computers running Windows, macOS and Linux. So are the Parallels and Systancia clients, which also support Google Chromebook and Raspberry Pi, in addition to other platforms.
Desktop and application virtualization products are continuously evolving to meet the needs of a distributed and mobile workforce. For instance, Verde VDI supports SmartCast technology to automatically provision user connections with the appropriate protocol based on the connection and desktop type.