Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) provides a great deal of flexibility for managed service providers (MSPs), up to and including the endpoints you select for your customers’ end users. There are a number of different options when it comes to VDI endpoints. Choosing the right option can greatly impact your level of success with VDI, so be sure to base your decision on each customer's goals and the unique needs of their end users.

Before you evaluate the fit for any kind of VDI endpoint, however, it’s important to hammer out a few key details. You should know exactly what it will be used for and have a solid understanding of the skill level of your customer. It’s best to work with your support managers to determine the customer’s specific user roles and requirements. Questions should include (but certainly aren’t limited to):

  • What applications and databases do users need to access?
  • What level of storage do users require?
  • What is the culture of the department? Are users accustomed to freedom and flexibility with their computing experiences?
  • Is remote access required?
  • Are personal devices regularly used for business purposes?
  • Given the data and applications users are accessing, what level of security is needed?

Having this information positions you to evaluate, select and procure the right endpoints (or combination of endpoints) that make the most sense for each costumer.

New Role for PCs

Don’t be too quick to ditch your “fat” clients - in other words, those PCs sitting on client desktops. With the installation of a VDI client, desktop PCs can be used to access virtual environments. You can either suggest keeping the PC’s native functionality while adding the virtual capabilities, or you can lock down everything except the remote desktop.

With the second option, you can leverage your customers’ existing hardware investment, but you won’t fully exploit the VDI model. You may end up managing both the VDI platform as well as the OS running on the customer’s PCs. Unfortunately, this approach isn’t as effective in driving down costs and increasing productivity and security.

Using PCs as endpoints makes the most sense for customers who have recently refreshed their desktop systems, or for users who need a large amount of storage or access to server-based platforms.

Thin Is In

When you think of VDI, you may think of dedicated “thin” clients. In this model, most of the work is being done on the server side. Therefore, the clients have minimal processing power and run a lightweight operating system.

Unless your customer is using them already, new laptops require significant capital outlay. However, a locked-down OS and fewer moving parts means that there are fewer things that can go wrong with the system and with the people using the system - including infiltration of malware or exfiltration of sensitive data. It also means lower maintenance and support costs, which saves money over time.

It should be noted that you can put your customer’s “fat” desktop PCs on a thin-client diet. Using a client conversion tool, you can convert their existing desktop PCs to “thin” clients by stripping out data and apps and installing the VDI software and purpose-built OS. This might be the “best of both worlds” scenario, because it allows you to leverage existing hardware while more fully exploiting VDI’s potential and limiting the support effort.

Zeroing In

If thin clients are bare-bones, then zero clients are no bones. “Zero” might be a bit of a misnomer, but it’s a pretty close descriptor. Like thin clients, zero clients offload almost all work to the back end. They have a special processor that handles the VDI protocol, but they have no operating system or storage. These systems are quick and easy to set up and maintain, and are even more secure than thin clients due to their simplicity. 

Keep in mind that zero clients have very little flexibility or functionality. They’re best used in kiosk- or call center-type environments.

HTML5 Clients

One of the newer VDI endpoint options comes courtesy of HTML5 and the features built into the browser. HTML5 clients, which reside on a server instead of locally on the device, provide remote desktop access through a web browser (think Google Chromebook). Configuration entails little more than configuring the URL from which users can log in to access their virtual desktops. Typically, there’s no need to download plugins or extensions.

Using HTML5 browsers as a VDI endpoint is a relatively new model with a lot of promise. It just makes sense, especially for organizations that have gone the BYOD (bring your own device) route. It further reduces costs and, theoretically, maintenance (depending on the users’ skill levels).

In the end, there are really no bad options - just models that should be matched with individual company goals and the needs of users.

Have you already implemented VDI? If so, what types of endpoints are you using, and how are they faring? Let us know in the comments section below.