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Desktop Virtualization

Desktops are another computing resource that can be virtualized. Desktop virtualization is enabled by several architectures that allow remote desktop use, including the X Window System and Microsoft Remote Desktop Services. The X Window System, also known as X Windows, X, and X11, is an architecture commonly used on Linux, UNIX, and Mac OS X that abstracts graphical devices to allow device independence and remote use of a graphical user interface, including display, keyboard, and mouse. X does not include a windowing system—that is delegated to a window manager, such as KDE or Gnome. X is based on an MIT project and is now managed by the X.Org Foundation. It is available as open source software based on the MIT license. X client applications exist on Linux, UNIX, Mac OS X, and Windows. The X server is a native part of most Linux and UNIX systems and Mac OS X and can be added to Windows with the Cygwin platform. The X system was designed to separate server and client using the X protocol and lends itself well to cloud computing. X Windows is complex and can involve some troubleshooting, but because it supports many varied scenarios for its use, it has enjoyed a long life since it was first developed in 1984.

The Remote Desktop Service is a utility that enables users to use a Microsoft Windows graphical user interface on a remote computer. Remote Desktop Service makes use of the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), a protocol that Microsoft developed to support it. Client implementations exist for Windows (including most variants, such as Windows 7, XP, and Mobile), Linux, UNIX, Mac OS X, and others. Remote Desktop Service was formerly known as Terminal Services. The Remote Desktop Service implementation of RDP is highly optimized and efficient over remote network connections.

In addition to X and RDP, two other remote graphical user interface platforms worth mentioning are Virtual Network Computing (VNC) and the NX Client. VNC is a system that uses a remote control paradigm that uses Remote Framebuffer Protocol (RBP). Because it is based at the framebuffer level, it can operate on all Windows systems, including Linux/UNIX and Windows. VNC is open source software available under the GNU license. Setup of VNC on a Linux system is described in the section “Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP” in Chapter 2, “Developing on the Cloud.”

NX is commercial/open source developed by NoMachine. NX Server and Client are the components of the platform, which operates over an SSH connection. The big advantage of the MoMachine NX system is that it works over a secure channel. NX also compresses the display data and uses a client proxy to make optimal use of network bandwidth. Future versions of the tool from NoMachine might be commercial only, with the FreeNX project producing the open source version. Figure 1.14 shows the basic concepts of VNC and NX.

Figure 1.14

Figure 1.14. Remote Desktop Management with VNC and NX Client

Commercial distributions of NX can support many desktops centrally. Linux desktops, such as KDE and Gnome, work over the top of X to enable users to manage Windows in a multitasking environment and personalize their desktop settings. You can use the desktop environment of your choice with either VNC or NX.

In addition to VNC and NX, several open source and commercial implementations of X are available for Microsoft Windows, including Cygwin X server, Hummingbird Exceed, Reflection X, and Xming.

See the sections “Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP” in Chapter 2 for basic use of VNC and the section “Remote Desktop Management” in Chapter 6, “Cloud Services and Applications,” for more details on using virtual desktops.

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