Take Five With Tom Fenton

5 Use Cases for Linux Virtual Desktops

It's a Windows world when it comes to VDI, but Linux still has a place.


I worked with VMware after VMware first bought Propero back in 2007 and integrated its VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) broker into VMware's product line. One of the questions I heard most often back then was "Does View support Linux as a virtual desktop?" The answer: No, but it will when there's a demand for it.

Many people liked the idea of running a Linux desktop; but in reality, when asked if Linux desktops were running on their physical systems, the answer was also No. Now, however, it seems like the tide has turned and more enterprises are starting to run Linux desktops. That means they're looking for a more secure and manageable way to deal with them.

VDI brokers allow desktops to be provisioned automatically and managed efficiently, while keeping them where they belong: in the datacenter, where the files can be securely stored. VMware Horizon Air Desktop (formerly Desktone) has supported Linux desktops since its inception. NoMachine, Red Hat, Dell vWorkspace, Leostream and VirtualBridges have all supported Linux virtual desktops for years. Even VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop, the two major players in this arena, now support Linux as virtual desktops with their VDI brokers.  Here are the five most common use cases I've seen for Linux virtual desktops:

  1. Education. The first use case that everyone lists with for Linux desktops is education. Education IT is chronically underfunded, and administrators in the primary schools see Linux desktops as a way to save money and remove licensing hassles. In the higher education field, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, Linux desktops are common because its open source nature allows for experimentation and modification.
  2. Federal government. This one caught me off guard, but more than a few of the folks that 've talked to mentioned that their federal accounts liked using Linux desktops. Red Hat, SUSE, as well as other Linux distributions provide the software and services necessary to meet federal security regulations, certifications and configuration standards.
  3. Media and entertainment; energy exploration. Companies in these fields have 3D and scientific apps that have been written for Linux and need a secure, enterprise-class platform on which to run them.
  4. Small, tech-savvy businesses. Most small business are happy running a Windows environment, but some businesses with a strong technical bent find that they can do all their desktop activities on Linux and save a few dollars in the process.
  5. Access to a secure browser. One customer said that they don't have a beef with running Windows desktops, but the company's core applications run from a browser and they need to run the browser from a secure desktop. They couldn't justify the added expense of running it on a Windows desktop, so they're instead choosing a Linux desktop to provide the browser platform.

Linux desktops are definitely a niche offering, but those currently using Linux desktops, or have applications that will only run on Linux, will find that they can benefit by running their Linux desktop from a VDI broker, as it can simplify the entitlement, authentication, provisioning, and management of Linux desktops while adding a deeper level of security.

About the Author

Tom Fenton works in VMware's Education department as a Senior Course Developer. He has a wealth of hands-on IT experience gained over the past 20 years in a variety of technologies, with the past 10 years focused on virtualization and storage. Before re-joining VMware, Tom was a Senior Validation Engineer with The Taneja Group, were he headed their Validation Service Lab and was instrumental in starting up its vSphere Virtual Volumes practice. He's on Twitter @vDoppler.

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