Adding the UC app into virtual desktop infrastructure

Businesses find unified communications and virtual desktop infrastructure beneficial, but what happens when you add a UC app to VDI?

Businesses are finding the benefits of both unified communications applications and virtual desktop infrastructure, but what happens when you add a UC app to VDI? The first part of this two-part tip explains how virtualization treats applications.

The UC app and VDI

The modern enterprise data center is witnessing the influx of technologies descending upon their infrastructure. Although it’s common for multiple technologies to converge on the enterprise simultaneously, the contention of those technologies, specifically real-time unified communications  applications and desktop virtualization, is causing customers and vendors to rethink how these two technologies interact and deliver multimedia collaboration to enterprise users.

Unified communications technologies are changing how enterprise workers communicate and collaborate with colleagues, customers and partners. At the same time, this mission-critical set of voice, video and data communications applications is continually changing the paradigm of IT support. IP telephony and UC apps can no longer operate in a vacuum, but must be integrated with a broad range of enterprise technology infrastructure, including the virtualized desktop and server environments that are gaining more widespread interest and adoption.

UC apps can no longer operate in a vacuum, but must be integrated with a broad range of enterprise technology infrastructure.

At the same time, virtualization has already become an engrained technology employed throughout the enterprise data center where nearly every element of the architecture uses some form of virtualization to optimize resources, including servers, routers and network switches. Server virtualization has been widely embraced by enterprises, technology vendors and service providers alike.

Less common in most enterprises is desktop virtualization or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Similar to how server virtualization separates the server and application software from the physical hardware, desktop virtualization is a process that separates the user desktop experience from the physical machine on the user's desk. VDI operating systems, applications and processing components reside and operate on shared servers in the data center. The user interface is a thin client that the enterprise can deploy as a PC application, on a dedicated hardware client or even on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. In essence, the thin client acts as a window into the desktop operating system running on a remote server.

Both UC and VDI offer significant benefits to enterprises, but because of the way they are designed, problems arise when they are deployed in the same environment. To understand the challenges of deploying real-time UC apps within a VDI environment, it's important to understand how VDI operates.

VDI as an alternative to desktop processing

Desktop and application virtualization technology has been available for some time. Products such as Citrix XenApp (formerly Citrix MetaFrame) and Microsoft Remote Desktop Services have delivered shared desktop environments for decades. VDI, also called virtual hosted desktop, takes desktop virtualization to the next level by isolating users within discrete virtual machines. Each user runs a unique copy of the desktop operating system on shared server computing resources.

By offering each user an isolated virtual machine desktop experience, VDI offers several advantages over traditional PC client computing. VDI enables administrators to build and deploy standardized workstation images from a centralized console. With centralized command and control over the desktop environment, IT can rapidly correct user desktop issues, ensure policy and standards compliance, and deploy new and updated applications -- all without visiting the user’s desk.

VDI also streamlines backup and recovery processes. In a server-side VDI environment, all the desktop images are stored on the server or on the enterprise storage area network, not on the users’ local machines. As such, backing up and recovering user desktops becomes a simplified process and the need for remotely deployed backup agents is eliminated.

Beyond administration and process improvements, VDI can lower client hardware costs for enterprises. The typical two-to-three year refresh rate on enterprise PCs reflects the increasing need for additional processing and memory requirements to support updated operating systems and applications. In a VDI deployment, these requirements and resources are absorbed into the server environment and shared among users. The thin client desktop hardware at the user workstation has only the barest of requirements, which extends the hardware lifecycle before it needs replacement.

Learn how to integrate UC apps into a VDI environment in part 2 of this tip. 

This was first published in January 2013

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