Given the choice, most businesses would gladly trade a fleet of traditional PCs – and the headaches that come with them – for easier to manage virtual desktops. Virtual desktops provide many benefits. From rapid recovery after a malware infection, to rapid deployment of standardized computing environments for new hires, virtualizing the desktop is an information technology no-brainer when it comes to the average user. Thing is, there’s a snag.
Compared to purchasing low-cost traditional PCs, the cost to provide employees with virtualized desktops is high. Like “I-really-like-this-BMW-but-I-can-only-afford-a-Honda-Accord” high. Sadly, this means that virtual desktops are out of reach for most small businesses.
Or are they?
With the PCs you already own and some low-cost or free software, you can provide your team with virtual desktops that offer most of the benefits of large scale complex virtual desktop deployments. The key here is that virtualization does not always equalcloud. Freeing your users from the shackles of hardware doesn’t always mean spending big money with companies like Amazon or Rackspace, and doesn’t have to mean spending six figures on expensive servers that sit in your closet.
Lets take a condensed look at how to turn a typical PC into a virtual desktop using free software and some IT know-how.
- Back up EVERYTHING. This is always step one.
- Install Linux. Its free. Ubuntu Linux is really popular, has a huge support community and offers a good desktop experience. Don’t worry, you’re not going to be using Linux except to boot up and launch your Windows virtual machine.
- Once you’ve got a working Linux desktop, download and install VirtualBoxfrom Oracle. Also free. Now you have a widely supported virtualization environment with a good point-and-click interface.
- Create your new virtual machine in Virtual Box. Since this is one-to-one virtualization, you get to use pretty much all of your PCs physical resources to power your new virtual Windows desktop. There’s little to no performance hit.
- Start your virtual machine for the first time and install Windows.
- Once you have Windows running, install all available updates and patches from Microsoft. Do not install anything else. Shut down your virtual machine. Make a copy of it (its just a collection of files), and put the copy in a safe place. You now have a fully functional, updated Windows desktop that you can deploy to any machine running VirtualBox within minutes. See where this is going?
- Start your new virtual machine again. This time install all your required applications. Set up your email accounts, get your browsers set up the way you like them, install all of your favorite plug-ins, widgets and extensions, set your desktop picture, and whatever else you do when you set up a new PC.
- Now stop your virtual machine again and make another copy of it. This is a fresh copy of “your” PC. All your programs and other goodies are installed and configured. If something goes wrong, it can be re-deployed within minutes if need be.
- Re-start your virtual PC, copy your data (or better yet – attach your network/cloud drives) and get to work! Run your virtual PC in full screen mode and you’ll never even see the underlying Linux desktop.
Naturally this is a simplified version of the process, but you get the idea.
No new hardware, no expensive software, and your PCs are no longer productivity land mines scattered around your office.
Add regular virtual machine backups to cover updates and configuration changes over time (this can be automated) and you’re really cooking with gas. Take the extra step, and periodically pre-configure a new PC “image” with the latest Windows updates and application updates installed. This will come in handy for new hires.If you’re using cloud-based email and office applications (i.e. Google Apps or Microsoft Office365), this gets even cooler since you can almost entirely skip the “copy your data” part of the equation.As you can see, there’s quite a bit to love about this often overlooked virtualization strategy.
Shameless Plug Ahead!
Great, but ….. Linux? Virtual machines? Huh?
This might seem beyond you, but it’s not difficult at all for a qualified, experienced IT professional. My team does this kind of thing on a daily basis for many very happy customers, so don’t be intimidated by the technical stuff. Ask us. We can help! If you have a good IT service provider that you already know and trust, ask them.
Either way, spend a few minutes to see if low-cost desktop virtualization can improve your business computing environment. Odds are, it can.