A virtual desktop is a system which allows users to use their desktop computers as if they were normal PCs, but in reality, their data and their whole desktop environment are located on an external server. To the user, it looks as if nothing is different at all.
Usually, there is nothing at all on the local computer. This is very different from working in the cloud, where the user's computer hosts an operating system which provides the interface. So, the wallpaper, icons, mouse pointer etc., are made by the user's PC. Also, the software which is used to open the document is local. The only thing which is removed stored is the actual document.
In a fully virtual environment, everything is stored remotely and only the physical components of the hardware can be said to be truly local. The virtualisation software allows the user to access everything.
This has an awesome number of advantages both for the user and also for the IT support department. Not only can a user access their documents from anywhere in the world, at any time as in cloud computing, but the user can have access to their own desktop environment in a similar fashion.
The only requirement is for a computer with an internet connection – any computer, anywhere in the world. Any device such as a home computer, a tablet pc, or even a smart phone can be used and it lets the user see their actual business desktop. The benefits to the user are unclear and obvious.
For the IT department, it means that all applications and software are housed in a central location. This means that there is a great reduction in the time required to manage individual user PCs. It has been estimated that a large proportion of the time is used to update applications and download new patches and new versions of application software.
Also, virus management can be carried out in-house in a central location. A single firewall can be set up and virus protection software can be installed and updated on the server side. This also saves a lot of time and reduces the risk of individual users turning off their firewalls and switching off their virus protection software.
This also eliminates the need to constantly update hardware. Users can be provided with 'thin' clients. These are the bare bones of PCs which do not need a lot of the components of a 'fat' client. In these thin, cheaply manufactured machines, there is no need for CDs or DVDs. There are no hard drives or fans and a lot less besides.
Finally, there is the huge benefit of having no data wondering around in people's pockets. Everything is housed centrally and workers can access it from work or home, so there is no need for people to save valuable or confidential information onto CDs or USBs and then leave it on the bus or train. These types of server-directed networks are invaluable for people who work in the medical field and for those who with confidential information.