Virtualizing non standard, non domain PC’s with VMware View

Recently, I visited a large multinational to help setting up a VMware View PoC environment. Firstly, my contact started to explain his thoughts, wishes and use case. The use case was quite interesting and I wanted to share it with you because it is different. It does make sense though, although you wouldn’t think about it that quickly.

When we think about VDI, we most likely think about office users, needing several applications, multimedia here and there, all in a domain or several domains. In this case we are talking about virtualizing PC’s, which are controlling laboratory equipment.

In the customer’s case, officially around 2000 PC’s are running and controlling laboratory/analytical equipment. This equipment is costly and generating very valuable data. Also, these setups (connection between lab machines and PC’s are done via RS-232) have been running for multiple years in a very standalone manner. They aren’t added to the domain, not connected to the Internet and running in an isolated “Lab” network segment.

The lab PC’s need to run continuously. Downtime is very, very costly. Virtualizing them benefit higher availability. These PC’s can use vSphere HA, DRS and vMotion.  In case of unsolvable crashes, provisioning a new VM will only take minutes. Also, adding them to VMware View will allow application owners/developers to access these VM’s to update and maintain the applications, instead of visit them physically.

So, interesting use case to me, and the first step was already made; the lab equipment was IP accessible and RS-232 connections weren’t needed anymore. Then I got the question if View desktops needed to be in a domain. Hmm, good one. I quickly looked through the documentation and everywhere I looked, it stated that VM’s needed to be part of a domain. Luckily, it isn’t a hard requirement. For example, you can create VM’s in vCenter first and add them to a “Manual Pool” later. You need to use Sysprep though. Quickprep can only be used when desktops are added to the domain. Also, you need to create a local account on the VM for a specific user who gets access. Lastly, Single Sign On doesn’t work which is understandable.

This case isn’t about the lowest TCO possible. It isn’t about multimedia, bandwidth usage and lowest storage capacity. It is about high availability, making it easier and more efficient to manage and maintain these machines and more importantly, the applications. Maybe the most important feature is creating a platform for these kinds of applications, which can be used for many years. Writing off expensive lab equipment because of the controlling PC’s are difficult to replace.

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