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Matt McSpirit on Virtualisation, Management and Core Infrastructure

Desktop Virtualisation and Diskless PC's...

Desktop Virtualisation and Diskless PC's...

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Right, I'll be honest.  I didn't know what a diskless PC was before starting to write this post, and perhaps you don't either, but, It's important you do know about them, and how we licence them.

In an IT infrastructure, what are some of the biggest headache's that are encountered?  How about if all your users are administrators on their own machine, free to run riot on there own desktop?  How do you manage this desktop environment?  How about the cost of deployment and administration in your infrastructure?  If these tasks are not automated, it not only takes someone a lot of time, but this, in turn, costs the business a great deal of money in lost productivity.  So, managing the desktop is one thing, but factor in the complexity of mobile workers, temporary workers, rules and regulations, and you can see that managing a desktop environment, in an efficient and effective way, is no mean feat.

So, how can you start to get around some of these headaches?  Well, Vista Enterprise and something called the Desktop Optimisation Pack (DOP) would definitely be a good place to start.  What is this DOP that I mentioned?  Well, in a nutshell, the DOP extends this value found in Vista Enterprise even further by helping to reduce application deployment costs, enable delivery of applications as services and allows for better management and control of enterprise desktop environments.  Now, I know what you are thinking...what is in the DOP?  Well, contained within the DOP are a couple of cracking technologies:

  • Microsoft SoftGrid Application Virtualisation <- This is awesome!!
  • Microsoft Asset Inventory Service
  • Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management
  • Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset

All of which, you can read more about on this page.  You can also download the PDF Datasheet or XPS Datasheet of DOP here.

Anyway, at the Microsoft Management Summit 2007 (MMS 2007) just over a week ago, we announced some pretty big additions to the ways you can deploy and manage a Windows Vista Enterprise environment.  According to Scott Woodgate, director in the Windows Business Group, "These two new options will enable our customers to begin testing centralized desktops and diskless PCs in their production environments alongside their existing deployment model and determine which combination provides the right mix of centralized IT control and end-user flexibility for their respective businesses".  What are these 2 new options?

  1. The license right to use Windows Vista on diskless PCs
  2. The availability of a subscription license called Windows Vista Enterprise Centralised Desktops (VECD) which allows customers to use Windows in virtual machines centralized on server hardware.

Let's take a look at 1).  So, what is a diskless PC?  It's not a PC that's missing a floppy drive, or a CD/DVD, and hence can't accept disks; it's a machine without a hard drive.  Yes.  No hard disk.  No Windows to boot into, no data stored on there.  No photo's, recorded TV, and, god-forbid, no music!  When I say, 'No Windows to boot into', that isn't entirely true.

The machine can still have a hard disk, or, more generically, storage space, but, it isn't actually located in the box that sits under your desk.  Surely that is going to be really slow, having to access everything over a network?  Well, in all honesty, it isn't.  It's actually an incredibly efficient way of housing and accessing your information from a centrally managed location.  One of the great things that it does enable is the ability for me to log onto any diskless PC and access my data quickly, rather than, now, logging on to a different PC, waiting for my roaming profile to kick in and set up a local copy, which is subsequently left on the hard disk when I log off.

OK, so that's 1) covered, but what about 2)?

What is this VECD? Similar kind of concept, but involves a Server that dishes out the Operating System over the network, rather than just accessing the diskless PC's storage across the network.  This concept can be executed for 2 different types of hardware; PC's and Thin Clients:

  • Using VECD with PCs provides a flexible combination of local and remote computing including mobility and off-line usage.
  • Using VECD with thin clients lets customers who are always connected use minimum footprint devices.

In both situations, users would benefit from a seamless Windows experience, yet the overall infrastructure would be centrally managed from one place, the Server.

So, Centralisation (is that a word?) is the key.  Throughout Vista, you'll see emphasis on centralising commands, Network Center, Security Center, Mobility Center and so on, so why not centralise your infrastructure too?  Using established technologies such as Virtual Server 2005 R2, along with innovative new technologies such SoftGrid, IT Pro's can not only create, deploy and manage their operating system images more effectively, but also centralise and manage their application deployment too.

These innovations and developments present a number of opportunities for our Partners, and their customers.  Think about the ease of management in a centralised location.  Think about no more rogue desktops with a million random applications installed.  Think about how easy it would be to deploy a new machine should the hardware fail - no more installation, just change the hardware and log in, and away you go!

Virtualisation really will be the way of the future.  Start getting the most out of your infrastructure now, to ensure you can embrace future technologies that are just around the corner.

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