Unidesk A Genius At VDI, Tackles Windows Migration Issues TooMay 07, 2012
by Edward J. Correia
Unidesk Layers VDI
Some organizations are born with a virtualized desktop infrastructure, some achieve it and others have it thrust upon them. Those in the latter two categories might also be simultaneously grappling with Windows migration issues such as the retention of user applications and personalization settings, and the massive storage and management hurdles that come along with any centralized solution, be it virtualization or otherwise.
The CRN Test Center has been looking at a solution from Unidesk that works with most virtualization brokers and employs a system of layering to reduce the cost and complexity of virtualized desktop infrastructure deployments. Unidesk tackles the issues of personalization and user-installed apps, offers centralized desktop and application management and monitoring, and massively reduces the storage needs for organizations deploying VDI by sharing operating system and application bits across multiple VDI users
Initial Setup On vSphere
Central to the Unidesk solution is the Unidesk Management Appliance, which runs in a virtual machine and is accessed through a browser. Initial setup includes the creation of one or more CachePoints, places where user application and OS layers are to be stored and brokered. In the step shown, the management app talks to our VMware lab infrastructure, and we tell it where to set up shop from a list of our available server and storage resources. Once the configuration is finalized, Unidesk directs our vSphere server to create the virtual machine on which our new CachePoint will run.
Building virtual desktops is simplified via a wizard that works its way down the left-hand tabs seen here. Unidesk composes the desktops to be used by VMware View, XenDesktop, Pano Logic and others and provides the management interface that IT administrators would use to provision desktops, update OSes and deploy and patch applications. It integrates with View by pushing the desktops it creates into VMware View pools, creating new View pools within the interface and adding new desktops to existing pools. With VMware, Unidesk does all this automatically by integrating directly with VMware’s Connection Server. In the Application Assignment tab, apps to be installed along with the new desktop are reviewed. A list appears in the right-hand Desktop Visualization pane. Additional apps can be selected from a scrolling list. Apps such as McAfee AV and Open Office are selected from the top level, while categories such as Office SP1 and Utilities contain groups of apps and are selected from nested lists. This not only helps keep modular apps organized, but can further simplify deployment by categorizing apps according to general usage or department.
Once the infrastructure is in place, it’s helpful to create at least one VDI template. More than the single monolithic .vmdk file that VMware creates, Unidesk templates contain malleable OS and application layers, plus settings for hardware and VM network and naming conventions and other default settings that auto-fill for all the desktops to be deployed. Templates can be created for identifying and simplifying deployment of department-level users in accounting, legal, marketing and so on.
Once the desktop configurations are confirmed and creation is launched, Unidesk communicates with VMware’s Connection Server to execute all the necessary VMware tasks to build the virtual desktops and get them ready for users. Seen next is the vCenter task list with some desktops already built and one in progress.
Issuing vCenter Tasks
A trip inside vCenter shows a task list active with instructions coming from the Unidesk Management Appliance when new desktops are being created. Unidesk is not a linked clone system; it takes over the composition of desktops and adds OS layers, apps layers and virtual hardware settings.
Unidesk App Layer
Unidesk uses layering to virtualize application installations, in essence capturing and preserving deltas. The genius of Unidesk is that applications appear to the Windows user as if they are locally installed. Users can see program files and registry entries. And unlike virtualization tools such as VMware’s ThinApp and XenApp, applications are not “bubbled” and can communicate and interoperate with other virtualized apps. What’s more, layered apps can include boot-level drivers such as those used by virus protection software. Try doing that in a bubble.
Unidesk also can handle complex, modular applications such as Microsoft Office, as well as those with lots of interdependencies such as legal and document management apps that sometimes fail when virtualized. However, Unidesk works just fine with apps that have been packaged with ThinApp. This allows organizations using VMware’s application packaging tool to eliminate app conflicts or compatibility issues, and it can manage, monitor, roll out or roll back existing thinapps right with along Unidesk layered apps, all from a single console.
Unidesk Network Overview
Unidesk offers a unique and elegant approach to VDI that includes all the major components of OS and application management, user personalization and reduction of storage requirements. Its versatile deployment system offers an aggregate of virtual hardware settings and OS and application layers that allow IT to select what gets deployed case by case, in groups or to an entire organization.
Unidesk gives IT the ability to maintain a single OS image across multiple use cases and to create templates based on hardware settings and apps that can be pushed down or rolled back with just a few clicks. Updates can be done once and pushed to all users simultaneously. To users, it appears like a normal C drive with everything installed locally. Unidesk is the best VDI solution we’ve seen to date.