Author: Alex Profilet, Service Desk Manager
There are a lot of buzz words in the IT industry today. The two largest current ones are quite possible Virtualization and “The Cloud.” Virtualization has been around and used heavily for quite some time now, but some people do not understand what it means. Cloud is probably the biggest buzz word out there right now related to computers and technology. IBM and Microsoft air commercials all the time mentioning the cloud but they don’t explain what the cloud is. Many people are left wondering what the cloud is but still want it because they see it everywhere and they want to know if it can help their business.
There are many different types of virtualization. The most common is server virtualization. Server virtualization allows multiple copies of Windows and/or Linux to be ran off of the same physical server. One physical server can run as many virtual servers as the hardware can support. The better the hardware the more that can be crammed on to it. A company with 10 physical servers could conceivably be reduced down to one physical server which will save on hardware and electricity costs. That one physical server will be much more expensive than a normal single physical server but it will be cheaper than buying multiple physical servers. The same idea applies to the electricity as well.
The three top dogs when it comes to server virtualization are VMware ESX, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Citrix XenServer. VMware is the most used of the three, but it is definitely the most expensive option. Hyper-V is free and Citrix XenServer has a free version that includes all the features a typical Small Business would need. The paid version adds many more features but is significantly cheaper than VMware. All options have their benefits and downsides, but Forum Info-Tech uses XenServer as their preferred hypervisor due to the cost, features, and performance it offers.
Another kind of virtualization is application virtualization. There are two types of application virtualization, normal application virtualization and presentation virtualization. Normal application virtualization is used to stream apps from a server to a computer and essentially install the application on the computer without going through an installation process. Once it is streamed to the computer it can be used even when the computer doesn’t have Internet or network access. The application is generally separated from the normal registry and can be isolated on the computer to avoid program conflicts. This method uses the computer’s processing power to run the application.
Presentation virtualization, on the other hand, uses the server’s power to run the application and it is displayed to the end user’s computer. It looks like it is running locally on the computer, when in reality what is seen on the computer is just a remote session running on a server. The benefit of this is that the computers do not need to have very much power to run even very resource heavy applications such as CAD. Old computer can be useful longer and when they do die, they can be replaced with thin clients that are significantly cheaper. Presentation virtualization can be used from any computer and the user preferences and settings will be the same. It can even be used from cell phones and tablets!
The two most popular application virtualization platforms are Citrix XenApp and Microsoft Remote Desktop Services. Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is the updated version of Terminal Services and only runs on Windows Server 2008. Remote Desktop services requires a per concurrent user license and a Windows Server 2008 license. RDS allows users to remote in and see a full desktop environment using Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and use it. This method is not seamless to the user and they know that what they run is not actually running on their computer. Using this method is not really any kind of application virtualization, but it can be useful in some cases. RDS also have Remote App which is presentation virtualization as was described in the previous paragraph.
Citrix XenApp is the unquestioned market leader in this segment. It takes RDS and build many additional features into it. Instead of using RDP it uses ICA which uses a lot less bandwidth. This helps increase the perceived performance of the applications to the end users, especially if they are working over the Internet rather than locally. It also fills a lot of the shortcomings that exist in RDS as far as security, performance, and features are concerned. There is a lot more granular control in Citrix XenApp, allowing for increased security and performance. Citrix XenApp also includes what they call HDX. HDX provides users with a high definition experience. This allows the application to look better to the end user. One problem with presentation virtualization is that videos do not display very well, but HDX greatly improves this. HDX also makes a lot of the other headaches associated with presentation virtualization better, such as printing. Forum Info-Tech has used both RDS and Citrix XenApp, but they greatly prefer Citrix XenApp as it is definitely a superior solution. The downside is that it is also more expensive, as it requires both an RDS license and a Citrix XenApp license.
Virtualization is popular, and that popularity is mostly driven by cost savings. There are other benefits as well, however the number one reason why business choose to go with virtualization is cost. Sometimes the upfront cost can be high, but the ROI is there and very compelling to most businesses. There are a lot of choices out there and there are always advantages and disadvantages to the different solutions. Having a trusted partner like Forum Info-Tech can be a lifesaver. Without having the experience to properly setup and work on virtualization technologies the ROI will be much lower and may get to the point where it is not worth the investment for the company.
Part 2 will be out next month and will explain and demystify the Cloud.
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