• March 23, 2022

The Alphabet Soup of Desktop Virtualization - 2022 Remix

Amy Kaminski
  • by Amy Kaminski

The education landscape underwent a major transformation since we published the first version of this article back in July 2019. Across the country, virtual infrastructure became an academic lifeline for students, teachers, and administrators alike. 

Truth be told, a more pervasive digital education scenario was long on the horizon. We merely catapulted ahead. Now that the future is here, it’s here to stay. We may as well get comfortable. 

As schools continue to discover the benefits and challenges of online education, they need virtual infrastructure that’s reliable, easy to scale, and even easier to manage. They also need solutions that ensure digital equity among their students. 

But let’s face it: End-user computing can be complicated, costly, and time-consuming. From selecting and deploying hardware to procuring equipment, managing assets, and providing support, the whole process is daunting. An easier approach exists, complete with its own language and acronyms. 

Propeller is dedicated to simplifying technology so educators can focus on learning rather than tech support.

That means helping you understand the lexicon and alphabet soup of modern end-user computing, exploring what it all means and how it fits into your learning environment. 

Let’s start with the difference between platform types: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Desktop as a Service (DaaS):

  • VDI is the legacy approach for desktop virtualization. It uses lots of hardware and complicated software, typically installed in a basement data center, to serve campus users. The idea of VDI is great, but challenges arise around cost, scalability, and performance. 

Within the VDI world, there are two options: 

  • Persistent environments VDIs are full-sized virtual machine (VM) copies of traditional PCs. When users within an organization log in to VDI, they gain access to the full VM. Users can save files, change configurations, and customize any settings, returning to the same VDI the next time they log in. 
  • Non-persistent environmentsVDIs do not save user data or settings. When the session is over, the desktop reverts to its original state and the user receives a fresh image the next time they log in.
  • DaaS is a more modern, flexible approach for providing virtual desktop environments to students. DaaS leverages the power of a public cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), so there’s no on-premises maintenance. You can scale services economically across your campus with the push of a button. This frees up resources and staff to focus on adding value beyond commodity computing services. 

Now that we’ve established the flexibility and scalability of DaaS, let’s look at some of the terms associated with accessing the platform:

  • Zero client is a model that uses very basic computing devices with no local storage—nearly all processing takes place on the server side. Zero client devices use firmware instead of operating systems to establish remote connections. While most often used in VDI environments, you can leverage your existing zero client investments for a modern DaaS approach so long as it supports the Teradici PCoIP (ideally version 6.x or higher). 
  • Thin clients are modern, lightweight devices that run on highly optimized versions of secured operating systems. For example, IGEL OS is a next-generation operating system that allows any device to connect to your DaaS deployment. For those who lack existing hardware, IGEL also offers a series of endpoints running IGEL OS, including a unique offering called UD Pocket: a thin client on a USB key. IGEL’s Universal Management Suite allows you to easily manage thin clients and centrally deploy configurations so you never have to touch an endpoint again. 

Thin clients let you repurpose your school’s existing hardware, increasing its usable life and expanding your initial capital investment. Propeller provides the glue, bringing everything together with the flexibility to mix and match connection methods for your needs.

  • Additional clients can be used to interact with the Amazon Web Services DaaS offering, WorkSpaces. In addition to supporting modern thin clients (like the IGEL series) and zero clients, WorkSpaces also supports a web client and several installable clients on macOS, iPad, Windows, Android, Fire Tablet, and Chromebooks. This diversity of clients allows your students, faculty, and staff to access what they need, whenever, wherever, and however they want to work. 

There are a few other terms you’ll need to know as you consider features and functionality:  

  • Single Sign-On (SSO) authentication allows users to securely access multiple connected applications with a singular set of credentials—reducing the number of username and password combos they need to remember. Examples of SSO platforms include Google Workspace, Microsoft ADFS, OneLogin, and Ping. These platforms also allow administrators to more quickly onboard users, decommission their privileges, or adjust their access requirements.   
  • Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI), a standard developed by IMS Global Learning Consortium, allows you to launch courseware and learning tools from different vendors within a learning platform, often a learning management system (LMS). With LTI integration, students can move seamlessly, securely, and intuitively from one tool to the next without resource-intensive integrations. 

LTI integration is available at no additional cost in all Propeller Editions, including Standard, Plus, and Premium. Existing customers can contact their customer service manager to enable the integration.

The Propeller Difference

Finally, here are a few terms you should know about using Propeller. They’re familiar, but bear repeating:

  • Fully managed, stress-free. Our team of experts deal with all the moving parts, which frees educators and administrators from troubleshooting.  
  • Cloud-based, budget-friendly. Schools can swap on-premises solutions—which require support staff, resources, and large up-front expenses—for flexible, operational, cloud-based solutions that can scale up or down as needed.

Built for educators, by educators. We understand what teachers need because we’ve walked in their shoes. As an education-focused company, Propeller creates everything for one purpose: helping schools increase access and equity in learning.

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