Guide to Virtual Desktop Technology

The term virtual desktop is a new name for an old concept. In the early days of business computing, employees used "dumb terminals" connected to large computers that handled all of the heavy lifting. As the PC gained popularity, computing power and storage moved from the mainframe to the desktop.

This distributed power brought its own set of problems, however. Companies were now faced with maintenance and software distribution issues that needed to be resolved over the entire enterprise instead of in a central location. Security also became an issue as the capabilities of desktop computers allowed for data leaks and the introduction of computer viruses.

The virtual desktop borrows from the old mainframe concept to return computing power, storage and network access to a central location.

Elements Of The Virtual Desktop
The virtual desktop is actually a collection of technologies that combine to create what (in the old days) could be called a client-server relationship. Some of those technologies are:

  • Thin client computer: At the desktop, workers are provided with a device that looks just like a PC, but with significant differences. A thin client computer contains no storage device or applications and can only access the local network. Data and applications are stored in a central location that the thin client can access.
  • Connection broker: The connection broker is the heart of a virtual desktop infrastructure. The connection broker application maintains the connection between virtual desktop instances that run on network servers and the thin client devices of the users. It may also act as a virtual desktop manager, balancing the use of the central processors to keep everyone working efficiently.
  • Enterprise servers: In a central location, enterprise servers store all network data. These servers also create instances of a virtual desktop environment that contains applications and information that users need to function. A user is assigned a virtual desktop when he logs into a thin client computer. From the client, the session looks just like a standard PC desktop, but the reality is that all of the computing takes place on the server.
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