Desktop virtualization

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Desktop virtualization involves the delivery of an entire information system, complete with operating system and applications within that operating system, to a device (client), whose hardware need not have the capacity to run such an information system either due to hardware architecture or operating system incompatibility. The device could be a PC, a non-Windows computer such as an apple computer, a tablet, or a device called a “thin client” which is essentially a keyboard and a screen with the ability to connect to a data center. The delivered operating system exists as needed, encapsulated on a centrally located server in a data center and the client provides only the input and output functions as well as the connection to the centrally located machine, either through a local area network, a wide area network, or the internet.

Advantages of desktop virtualization to the User

Device choice

A virtual desktop can be available on standard desktop computers, laptops, thin clients, tablets (windows, iOS and android) and even smartphones. Through an installed client, a clinician can access the full range of hospital systems (EMR, radiology, and other hospital departmental systems such as cardiology, OR or ER) on a device of his/her choosing, from within the facility or from an office or home.

Desktop organization

A desktop image specific to the type of user (physician, nurse, respiratory therapy) can be deployed that is uncluttered by icons for applications that are never used by that user type. Ideally, clinicians would have only icons for primary clinical applications, references and voice recognition software. Other applications can be available for the user with more needs such as productivity software, email, media players etc. Also, while the desktop is standardized, user profiles are stored separately and bookmarks productivity software settings can be individualized.


When deployed in conjunction with a Single Sign On integrated with the virtual machine, an initial sign on using strong authentication can give access to all used applications without further need for logging in to each application separately. This will also minimize the constant password confusion for users with different usernames and passwords to different applications. After an initial log on for the day with a user name and password combined with a proximity device or a biometric authentication, the user can move from device to device, logging into the new device with only the badge or biometric log in, automatically closing out the last device and entering the desktop session, right where the user left off at the last device.

Advantages of Desktop Virtualization to the Organization

Data Loss Prevention

Data loss in healthcare can result in financial penalties, legal liability, significant erosion of trust in the community served. Privacy requirements in HIPAA and the HITECH act are stringent. In a VDI environment, no protected data resides on a device, residing instead in the data center of the organization, whether internal or remote.

Network Security

The desktop image can be locked to prevent use of portable storage devices limiting the risk of malware installation or data removal. If an instance of a machine is compromised, that instance can be eliminated and a new virtual machine provided to the user within minutes.

Ease of upgrades

Upgrades become simpler with the need to only edit a single image of each VM which is then cloned as needed on the central server. As organizations migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7, only a limited collection of different user types of desktop images need be upgraded and can instantly be accessed throughout the organization, without the need to touch each individual device.

Reduced hardware replacement cycle and maintenance costs

While ultimately an organization may move to thin clients, currently most healthcare organizations have huge budgets for replacement of aging computers. If the normal lifespan of a desktop computer in the health care environment is 3- 5 years, that may be doubled as the demands of the machine are limited to input, output and a simple OS capable only of establishing a connection to the virtual machine. The need for PC technicians will be reduced as well as tasks related to desktop maintenance and disk re-imaging become a thing of the past. If the organization uses thin clients, hardware maintenance is also minimized.

Business continuity and disaster recovery

If a particular department or departments experience a disaster (fire, flood) that damages devices, full computing capability can be restored in alternative locations with any immediately available devices and an internet connection.

Challenges in the VDI environment

Greater technical expertise

While staff for device maintenance may be reduced, there will be an increased need for higher paid technical staff with virtual environment skills.


If an aging computer fleet is utilized to access the virtual environment, attention to removing applications from the actual desktops to avoid excess licensing fees will be necessary.

Limited processing capability

The virtual desktop environment may not work for users with very specialized or demanding computing needs.

See Also


Single Sign-On

Disaster recovery

Submitted by: Wouter Rietsema, MD