Enterprise Desktop Hosting - Who's doing it?
I was a bit surprised to see that this was such a popular topic of conversation because I thought that we* were MIS-USING ESX by doing this :) only to find out that we were ahead of the game.
We had a need for a computer for a new employee on short notice.... so we thought to ourselves, why don't we just deploy XP on a vm... and then put one of our old crappy PCs at the new guy's desk... he can boot up into XP and the RDP to the vm. So we did it. About a week later, we did it again for another new employee. Now we're doing it when it is time to replace old PCs around the office. The only time this doesn't make sense is when the end user needs physical devices or the ability to run VM Player or the like.
One of our biggest problems was that we did not have or know (and still don't) know of a source for cheap thin clients. Our old PCs were fine, but the thought of burning another XP license just to remote desktop really burned me... It is very difficult to find a thin client for less than $300 or $400... so what do you do? the old PC and a $170 xp license isn't that bad of a deal after all, right? Wrong! There's management with every PC that is deployed. That XP box should have antivirus software on it, right? It should be on the domain, right? It should not be used for anything but RDPing to the vm, right?** Sheesh. What a pain. Why can't we find a cheap thin client?!?!?!
Well, we did. After going to vmworld and sitting in on all the hosted desktop sessions we could and asking several times to the vmware folks about what to do for a cheap thin client, we were still at square one. I figured that as long as they were going to be pushing this solution they should probably partner with Wise or someone to get the prices down. All the vmware employees we talked to agreed that something should be done and that as time went on, surely something would be figured out.
Well, it was. As I was looking for material to talk about on this blog, I found an interesting website. From there, they linked to an advertiser who was selling software for securing a terminal server. I thought that was interesting, because I've often wondered why some of these features were not built into windows... anywho... turns out these folks have a product called "ThinClientServer" Their website is www.2x.com. How cool is that? A two letter domain :)
This software runs on a windows or linux server and allows old PCs or even thin clients to PXE or etherboot an image of a thinclient-only linux build that does nothing but RDP or Citrix ICA or NX to a terminal server. So I thought to myself... I wonder if that will work for RDPing to a vm XP box. Sher'nuff... It handles authentication and control over what user can connect where using a very nice web interface. The install was easy. I setup a whole 2x system in VMware Workstation in about an hour. This comprised of one xp box to rdp to, one xp box to run their server software on, one vm running IPCop (to provide the dhcp (and modified to offer the correct pxe info)) and one vm that did nothing but pxe boot. It worked like a champ... first time!
After seeing how well it worked, we re-did the whole thing, but told it to authenticate users to our domain and actually rdp to one of the XP virtual pcs on our esx stuff... again, it worked like a champ.
Here's the best part: If you get the trial of their software, it gives you a 10 client license... FREE. If you need more than 10, you have to start with a 25 pack @ about $500. That is the cheapest thin client yet... and it is managable too.
*When I say "we" or anytime I speak of "my" or "our" or "I" when talking about "our" installation of ESX, I'm speaking about my day job.... I don't own it, but I am the network admin at a place that uses it and I do rely heavily on "our" Sys Admin's help. vmwarez.com does not have an ESX installation, but it is hosted on a win2k3 server that is virtualized on "our" ESX servers.
**Before we found our thin client solution, we overcame a lot of the management issues of the old xp box... a product called DeepFreeze from www.faronics.com. This is THE magic pill for sooo many problems. I found it because I teach the computer class at a local private college and their computers were always getting hosed by software getting installed, spyware, viruses,etc. Anyway, what it does (to put it in terms we vm people can understand) is basically put the drive in non-persistent mode.