2X VirtualDesktopServer: Creating Comprehensive VDI Environments

This cost-efficient package supports multiple OSes and server products.

2X VirtualDesktopServer (VDS) from 2X Software Ltd. allows administrators to easily create a complete Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) environment, making standard OSes (desktops) and applications available through dedicated thin clients or older PCs that would not normally support the newest OS versions due to limited memory or older graphics cards.

Using a terminal server or hypervisor server such as Microsoft Terminal Server, Hyper-V/Virtual Server or Oracle VirtualBox, or products from VMware Inc., Virtual Iron or Parallels Holdings Ltd., the system enables administrators to easily provision, manage and make desktops available to local and remote users with great security and ease of use.

In addition to reducing the cost of each workstation and eliminating the need for upgrade cycles on each system, 2X VDS can reduce management costs and enable tighter control of unauthorized applications, as each actual OS is stored on a server, where it can be centrally managed.

At the same time, this system also enables employee mobility, because an employee receives the same desktop no matter where they log in from, as long as the OS supports the 2X client. Supporting OSes include Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows CE, Windows Embedded, Mac OS X 10.5.x and later, iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android. Also supported are the following 32-bit Linux distributions: Ubuntu 8.04, Ubuntu 8.10, Ubuntu 9.04, Ubuntu 9.10, openSUSE 11.1, Fedora Core 9, Fedora Core 11, CentOs 5.2 and VectorLinux 6.0.

VDS Configuration
Because clients can log in via SSL as well as Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), users can access their desktops though an Internet connection rather than requiring a difficult-to-configure VPN connection. Once logged in, they receive access to a standard Windows desktop and whatever applications the administrator sets up for them.

There are several pieces to a VDS installation. First, a hypervisor or terminal server is required. The versions of Microsoft Terminal Server that are supported include Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2000. Citrix Terminal Servers are also supported. A wide variety of hypervisors are also supported, including Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware ESX, vCenter, VMware Server, Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Virtual Server, Oracle VirtualBox, Parallels Virtuozzo Containers, Parallels Server, Parallels Server BareMetal, Oracle Virtual Iron, QEMU, Xen and KVM.

More than one hypervisor or terminal server can be used, which means you can distribute virtual desktops across a variety of platforms (depending on your requirements) and scale the solution to hundreds of users by load balancing across multiple nodes in a farm.

Once the terminal server or hypervisor is installed, there are some basic configuration procedures to follow, such as configuring the Web server for the portal used by the VDS server. Then you can run the .msi file to install VDS, a simple process with a few basic steps. VDS and the Web portal server can be installed on the same system running Hyper-V or Terminal Server, although this is not recommended for systems that will support more than a few users.

Thin-Client Flexibility
Once the system is installed, publishing desktops or applications is a simple process. Desktops, applications, folders and documents can all be made accessible to specific groups of users, to all users, or under other criteria such as types of sessions or types of logins. Applications can be set up to run locally when it makes sense. You can easily configure the system so that browsers and e-mail run locally, for instance. Of course, it's also possible to lock down the PC or thin client so that local applications can't be installed, thus eliminating the threat of unauthorized or virus-infected applications altogether.

An agent is installed on each terminal server or hypervisor system that will be used. It makes creating and managing pools of desktops possible, and enables load balancing across multiple servers. The agent detects the available sessions (either terminal services or guest OS sessions), and parcels out requests from thin clients to the least-loaded server.

Because the VDS system supports a variety of thin clients, you can use old computers, new low-cost computers or dedicated thin clients from different vendors, all managed through a single interface. This also means that, rather than upgrading all desktop PCs to run Windows 7 with faster processors, more RAM and new video boards, you can simply upgrade a server or two to Windows Server 2008 R2 with Terminal Server and run Windows 7 on the server, with centralized management. You can even run 64-bit applications and the Aero interface on thin clients. It's also possible to use the system to handle remote access to PCs for users who are traveling, enabling them to access a specific physical PC in their office rather than a virtual one if there are specific specialized applications or hardware they need to access.

Goodbye to VPNs
The Enterprise version of 2X VDS also includes an infrastructure designer with a tool for designing the load-balanced farm visually, using Visio. This can make visualizing a complex server farm much easier, as the individual nodes are automatically added to the diagram when you add them through the interface. The system also makes it simple to set up redundant servers to publish applications and balance loads, ensuring that no single server failure will affect user services.

Universal scanner and printer drivers greatly simplify the task of giving users access to printers, either at their current locations or at the central office, as desired. Audio is also redirected in both directions, ensuring that audio/video players such as Windows Media Player, as well as microphones and speakers, work as expected. Remote desktops and applications fully integrate with users' local desktops and taskbars: remote applications will automatically show up in the local taskbar and/or on the desktop. Users can also copy and paste between local and remote desktops and applications.

Applications can tunnel securely through firewalls, allowing for enterprise applications to be securely accessed without the trouble of guiding users through the setup of VPNs. Setting up licensing management is also an easy process, with support for either site licenses or per-system licenses as needed.

The system also includes the Deepnet unified authentication platform for two-factor authentication, which can use SafeID, FlashID, MobileID, QuickID, GridID or SecureID (RSA). It can also integrate fully with Active Directory.

The Enterprise version of 2X VDS is priced starting at $2,241.00 for two terminal servers, which is a reasonable price for a complete VDI system that's easy to configure and manage, highly available and features broad support for virtualization platforms, terminal servers and clients. It makes the process of configuring and making desktops and applications available to users much simpler and easier to manage, while adding load balancing and security features that all administrators will welcome.

About the Author

Logan Harbaugh is a freelance reviewer and IT consultant located in Redding, Calif. He has been working in IT for almost 20 years and has written two books on networking, as well as articles for many computer publications.

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