Creating Virtual Desktops
When it's time to import the Windows image into VDI-in-a-Box to create the golden image, the software will tell you if your image isn't suitable, and more importantly, why, so you can correct any problems. It then walks you through the multiple steps involved in preparing the golden image for deployment, such as installing the Citrix Desktop Agent, verifying remote connectivity, editing the image with applications, updates, etc. A provided checklist ensures that critical image configuration requirements have been met before VDI-in-a-Box uses it to create a draft copy of the golden image.
Once the golden image draft has been created, you have an opportunity to test the image to make sure it's functioning as intended. This is where we encountered a notable snafu -- we were unable to log into our image due to a licensing error message that turned out to be the result of an expired DLL file. Citrix provided an updated DLL that rectified the issue once we returned to the edit stage and replaced the errant file.
Figure 2: To minimize errors during the image generation process, VDI-in-a-Box presents a checklist of critical configuration items.
After patching and re-testing our image, the final step was creating a template to specify things such as how many virtual desktops would be available (and how many started up in advance), how much RAM they'd be allocated, and whether they'd be able to access local devices such as printers and USB drives. You can create multiple templates that apply to specific users or groups of users.
With our virtual desktops online, we were able to connect to them from a variety of PCs using a Web browser, a Java client, or Citrix Receiver software. Citrix Receiver is available for non-PC platforms as well, and we used it on an iPad to successfully connect to a virtual desktop. (Android devices are capable of the same thing.) While it's hard to make performance judgments about VDI-in-a-Box based on our small-scale setup, we managed to run four functional and responsive Windows 7 desktops on our modest test server.
VDI-in-a-Box is licensed on a concurrent-user basis, so you don't have to purchase licenses for all your users, just enough for those who will use the virtual desktops at a given time. The cost-per-user license is $55 per year annually, or $160 for a perpetual license. Either way, there's an additional (and mandatory) annual charge of $35 for licensed user for "Software Maintenance," which covers product updates and technical support.
To calculate the full cost of a VDI-in-a Box setup, you need to consider not just the aforementioned charges, but also the cost of the hosting server (or servers), the hypervisor software (if any) and finally, volume licensing for Windows. (Volume licensing is the only kind where Microsoft allows running the operating system in a virtual machine.)
Even factoring these attendant costs, it's not hard to envision how a virtual desktop delivered by VDI-in-a-Box might very well ring up for less than the cost of buying and supporting a new PC. (Citrix estimates a cost of $260 to $425 per virtual desktop, though its estimate assumes the desktops are accessed via existing PCs and also doesn't include the recurring software maintenance charges.)
The Bottom Line
Setting up a VDI is far from a trivial undertaking, but VDI-in-a-Box manages to do a very good job of distilling the complexity inherent in the technology down into a very manageable package -- one that a generalist IT manager familiar with imaging and virtualization technology should be comfortable with. Any small business IT department with plans to replace a sizable number of PCs in the near future would do well to give VDI-in-a-Box a close look.
Price: $55 annually or $160 perpetually per concurrent user, plus $35 per concurrent user for software maintenance
Pros: Simplifies the process of creating and managing virtual desktops; runs on generic server hardware; compatible with all major hypervisors.
Cons: Centralization of desktops represents single point of failure; requires volume licensing for Windows OS.
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.
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