Deploying Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Using Thin Clients

Business Case Study

December 2014

To provide cost-effective, reliable desktop services– and standardization within a new technical support center, Microsoft IT created a thin client Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).


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Products & Technologies

While designing the infrastructure of a new technical support center in Wuxi, Jiangsu, China, Microsoft IT wanted to leverage VDI by using thin clients that would help keep costs down, improve reliability, reduce downtime, and provide disaster recovery capabilities. It was also important that security requirements be met, with a high level of data protection to reduce the potential for data leaks.

Microsoft IT deployed a VDI thin-client solution at the technical support center in Wuxi to provide cost-effective, reliable desktop services and workstation standardization. This deployment represents the first complete implementation of a VDI thin-client solution in the Microsoft Asia-Pacific region and is the first internal deployment at Microsoft.

  • High availability and resiliency
  • Data security
  • Lower costs
  • Richer user experience
  • Improved management and self-service
  • Windows 8
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Microsoft System Center
  • Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance


Established in August 2007, the Microsoft Asia‑Pacific (APAC) Global Technical Support Center provides product services and technical support for hundreds of Microsoft products that personal users, developers, IT pros, cooperating partners, and enterprise users employ daily. The new technical support center in Wuxi, Jiangsu, China, is the second base of the APAC Global Technical Support Center.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Microsoft IT leveraged the Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), powered by the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system, to deploy remote desktop services that provided employees at Wuxi the flexibility to access their corporate Windows 8 desktop and application environment running in the data center on thin clients in the support center. See Table 1.

Microsoft IT decided to explore the use of thin clients rather than traditional computers at Wuxi for a couple of reasons. The majority of the users within the support center perform support services and development tasks. For data security reasons, all computing was going to take place on fixed workstations within the support center. It was a compelling use case for server-based desktops.

VDI thin clients Traditional desktop computers
Profile accessed from any client computer Offline use
Standardized hardware mitigates compatibility issues Differences in hardware, with the possibility for compatibility issues
Easy to manage and back up Complex data backup and recovery
Desktop running on server-class hardware Running on local client computer
Centralized management, online migration, and high availability Decentralized IT maintenance requirements

Table 1. Characteristics of thin clients and traditional desktop computers.

The features and unified management infrastructure for centralized desktops in Windows Server 2012 R2, combined with application and user state virtualization technologies in Microsoft System Center applications, increased flexibility of access for personal or pooled virtual desktops, session-based desktops, and Microsoft RemoteApp in the data center and hosted in Microsoft Azure, deliver personalized, consistent, and secure experiences for users while improving compliance through centralized control and access to confidential data.

Features of VDI thin clients at Wuxi

For users in Wuxi, all the virtual desktops are centrally located, making it easier to control access to confidential data. In addition, the office environment is strictly controlled and standardized. Users enjoy the reliability, data protection, and disaster recovery capabilities provided through the server applications. Shared memory is used to store and back up all desktop data.

Through user state virtualization and application virtualization, users can easily create an office desktop environment connected to user accounts and stored. By deploying enterprise applications and information security to the virtual machines (VMs), VDI technology helps to ensure that confidential information stays within the VM.


Lower costs

By using VDI thin clients in the Wuxi support center, Microsoft IT was able to lower both setup and maintenance costs while delivering greater agility and economies of scale. VDI made it possible for Microsoft IT to realize the cost savings of virtualization and make optimum use of server hardware investments by consolidating multiple server roles as separate VMs running on a single physical machine (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Overall total cost of ownership of VDI thin clients vs. traditional desktops

Figure 1: Overall total cost of ownership of VDI thin clients vs. traditional desktops

Initially, Microsoft IT invested US$285,000 in servers and data storage for VDI and US$205,000 in thin-client devices to support 320 Wuxi users. All of the server, storage, and client devices can be used for an average of 5 years, so the cost depreciated for each year is US$57,000 for the servers and storage and US$41,000 for the thin clients. Deploying traditional desktops would have required an initial investment of US$375,000, and those machines would have required replacement in 3 years, making the yearly depreciation roughly US$164,000. Microsoft also realized savings through centralized management, because VDI requires only one-quarter of the resources typically required to manage and maintain 320 traditional desktops.

Another area that netted substantial savings was the reduced power consumption of the VDI thin client support center. The rated power of a traditional desktop is 350–400 W, while a thin client is rated at 5 W. Each server is rated for 800–1,000 W. The VDI thin client support center operates (including server and storage) at 20% of the power that would be required to run traditional desktops.

High availability and resiliency

The VDI infrastructure at Wuxi is hosted in a server farm that has 10 nodes made up of eight active and two passive high-availability clusters to support its 320 users. Microsoft IT uses Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Management and the Failover Cluster Manager Microsoft Management Console snap‑in for Microsoft Hyper‑V to deploy, monitor, and manage the whole VDI system, including VMs and host servers. Even if two nodes have problems at the same time, those nodes can be automatically migrated to other nodes without affecting business operations.

Through VDI, Microsoft IT has a streamlined, efficient, and flexible way to replicate VMs. In the event of a disaster, the replicated VMs can be started within minutes. For example, a power supply instability caused the unexpected crash of six servers in the server farm. The VMs running on these servers migrated to the remaining servers smoothly and automatically.

Data protection

VDI thin clients uses enterprise-level server storage. Server disk arrays have greater fault tolerance than hard disks in traditional desktops (see Table 2). Redundant array of independent disks (RAID) 5+0 and hot spare are enabled in the storage system. With this setup, a simultaneous failure of two hard disk can be tolerated.

  Hard disk corruption rates Data rescue probability
Traditional desktop Around 10% (3 years, no warranty after 3 years) All data not backed up to an external drive when the physical disk is damaged is lost
VDI storage area network (SAN) back end Nearly 0.5% (5 years) No data lost if one or two physical disks are damaged

Table 2. Disk corruption and data rescue probability of thin clients vs. traditional desktop computers

Data security

By design, the VDI thin client solution at Wuxi offers a high level of data security. If a thin-client device is misplaced or stolen, no usable data is stored within it. All data is stored and kept secure on the server.

Improved management and self-service

A User Profile Disk is created for each user and applicable to a specific VM or session collection. The User Profile Disk stores user personalization and application cache data, so it is maintained across user logon sessions.

For new hires or thin-client rebuilds, the process of rolling out a new workstation by using VDI is simplified, providing additional convenience and time savings. A traditional desktop could take at least 2 hours to deploy or reinstall. With VDI thin clients, the whole process takes less than 10 minutes.

Consistent user experience

VDI delivers a consistently rich experience to users of the thin-client workstations through changing network conditions. With a Microsoft RemoteFX hardware graphics processing unit (GPU), many virtual desktops can share an individual host GPU to ensure high levels of scalability without sacrificing performance.

Better performance

Microsoft IT measured the performance of traditional desktop computers and the VDI thin clients (see Figure 2). When opening a 7.5‑MB Microsoft PowerPoint file, the traditional desktops averaged 6 seconds, while the VDI thin clients were able to open the file in about half that time. The thin clients were also able to start up in 16 seconds on average, whereas the traditional desktop computers needed 50 seconds or longer.

Other performance testing included CPU/memory property (WinRAR test) and disk input/output operations per second (IOPS) properties (4 KB IOPS read, 4 KB IOPS write).

Figure 2. Performance testing of traditional desktop computers vs. VDI thin clients
Figure 2. Performance testing of traditional desktop computers vs. VDI thin clients

Best practices

Take advantage of multitouch capabilities

As more applications are written to support touch as the primary interface, it is increasingly important to take advantage of multitouch capabilities. Microsoft IT developed and added a new application to the App Store to provide users an immersive touch experience.

Leverage high performance server storage

Take, for example, a developer working on a virtualized web server via his thin client. When testing is complete, this workload could be migrated, live, without interruption, from the developer’s individual host system, where the VM resides on locally attached storage, across to the production cluster, where the VM will reside in high-performance SAN storage. With Shared-Nothing Live Migration, this migration is seamless, without interruption or downtime.

Diversifying VM role-based designs

The primary roles at the Wuxi technical support center are technical support and development, both of which require high-performance computing to handle daily operations. By diversifying VM role-based designs, Microsoft IT can implement the VDI thin-client solution to meet the operational needs of other areas of the business. For example, information workers who perform telephone sales might require lower-performance yet quicker-response computing. To meet this need, Microsoft IT can create a VM role-based profile that has reduced RAM and storage and increased IOPS on disk performance.


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