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Common non-physical options: Virtual desktops, server-based computing

If a healthcare organization is considering using hosted desktop sessions, as opposed to physical desktops, then one of the big decisions that must be made is whether to use virtual desktops or server-based computing.

Desktop virtualization involves running a desktop operating system -- such as Windows 7 or 8 --

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within a hypervisor on a host server. A session broker is responsible for matching end-user session requests with virtual desktops.

Server-based computing is an environment in which all of the computing work is done on a server. Users establish a remote session with the server, and do not connect to a virtual desktop.

Both of these methods have their place. When choosing between these methods, one of the first issues that healthcare environments must consider is application compatibility. Some desktop applications, for example, will run in a virtual desktop environment, but will not run in a server-based computing environment.

Another consideration is cost. Neither method is cheap to deploy, but desktop virtualization is usually the more costly of the two options. This is partially due to the complexity of virtual desktop infrastructure environments, and the fact that the virtual desktop infrastructure is usually composed of several different servers. While the same is also sometimes true for server-based computing environments, virtual desktops usually may also incur costs for virtual desktop licenses.

Flexibility is a third consideration that should be taken into account. Not all users access electronic protected health information in healthcare environments. HIPAA provides a number of requirements for desktops that do access sensitive patient data. Virtual desktop environments make it easy to create pools of desktops, with the desktops in each pool being configured differently. This type of flexibility is far more difficult to achieve in a server-based computing environment.

About the author:
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals, and once was in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. Write to him at
editor@searchhealthit.com or contact@SearchHealthITon Twitter.

This was first published in April 2013

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