Mastering VMware Horizon 6

By Peter von Oven , Barry Coombs
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  1. Free Chapter
    Introduction to VMware Horizon 6

About this book

Horizon 6 is VMware's latest end-user computing solution, designed not only to centralize and virtualize desktop environments but also to deliver individual applications securely to any device by means of a virtual workspace.

Your journey starts by investigating an end-user computing project including assessment, pilot, and production. Next, we move into the design phase where we will first take a deeper look at the Horizon 6 solution and its components and how to plan their use in a successful project. Once we have our design and have identified our use cases, we will start to install and configure the core solution. With that in place, we will fine-tune the best end-user experience. Finally, we examine the advanced and enterprise features of Horizon 6, such as VSAN, vCOPS for View, and Horizon Mirage.

Publication date:
March 2015


Chapter 1. Introduction to VMware Horizon 6

VMware Horizon 6 is the foundation of VMware's End User Computing (EUC) solution. It first came to the market 12 years ago, when server virtualization was becoming a more mature and prevalent technology and VMware applied the same principles that it used in server virtualization, and applied them to desktops, by virtualizing and centralizing the management and deployment.

Before we get into discussing product specifics, let's define what we mean when we talk about Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI, and then take a brief stroll down memory lane and look at where and how this started.


What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure?

When we talk about Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or VDI as it's more commonly referred to, we typically describe a solution whereby the desktop operating system is hosted as a virtual machine running on a hypervisor that in turn, is part of the data center server infrastructure. This is also sometimes referred to as a Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD). This is shown in the following diagram:

A user connects to their desktop remotely from a client device (a PC or mobile device) using an optimized delivery protocol and a connection broker. No data leaves the data center but screenshot updates are sent over the network. It's like watching a smart TV with the pictures broadcast to your television from the television studios, rather than the actors performing the show in your lounge, and you interact with the TV via the remote control.

From an architectural perspective, the virtual desktop typically gets built on-demand, bringing together the different components that make up a full desktop. The operating system, user profile, desktop policies, and applications are all treated as separate components, abstracted from the underlying machine, and are then delivered back together to create a user's desktop experience. This is sometimes referred to as a composite desktop and is shown in the following diagram:

VDI sometimes get confused with Server Based Computing (SBC) or Remote Desktop Services (RDS). So what are the differences between these technologies and VDI (if any)?

Let's take SBC/RDS first, as these are the technologies that have probably been around the longest. In fact, you could probably trace these back as far as the 1950s, with the introduction of mainframe technology that was designed to deliver centralized computer power running the applications, with users connecting to the applications using a green-screen-type terminal, which was more or a less just a screen with a keyboard:

As shown in the previous diagram, SBC or RDS is seemingly not that different from VDI. You are connecting to an application that is installed on a server and running in a separate, protected session for each user who connects to it. The difference is that it is hosted on x86-based servers running a multi-user operating system instead of being a separate instance of the operating system. A user would connect to a session via a terminal or thin client. In fact, SBC is sometimes referred to as thin-client computing.

You could also be connecting to an operating system running in the same way, in that the operating system, like the applications described earlier, is also running in a separated, protected individual user session. This is the key difference between VDI and SBC. In an RDS environment, users are leveraging shared resources and single instances of applications, whereas, in a VDI environment, the resources are dedicated, and each user has their own instance of the operating system and applications.


The benefits of deploying VDI

By virtualizing your end-user desktop estate into a centrally managed service, you can deliver benefits not only to the IT administrators, but also to the users. Some of these are detailed as follows:

  • Security and compliance: No data actually leaves the data center unless the IT department has specifically configured a policy to allow it, such as the ability to connect a USB pen drive. All that gets transmitted to the client devices are the screenshots of the virtual desktop, with keyboard and mouse interactions being sent back to the virtual desktop. It's a bit like having a remote control for your desktop.

  • Centralized and simplified management: Centralized desktops equal centralized management. Now that the desktops are virtualized and hosted in the data center, it is much easier to perform tasks such as updating and patching an operating system or installing new applications. The virtual desktops are all created from a single gold image that is maintained and updated centrally so you don't have to visit every physical machine. You can simply update the image, recreate the virtual desktops with a few mouse clicks, and, hey presto, all users get the new updated version. You can also troubleshoot the environment more easily, without the need for a desk visit.

  • Flexibility and agility: By having desktops hosted on a virtual platform, allows you to scale up and scale down much more easily, without the need to necessarily purchase more physical desktops. You could use thin-client devices or allow users to connect from their own devices. Environments can be spun up quickly, and also taken down just as easily, to accommodate seasonal workers or contractors working on specific projects. Users now have access to their virtual desktops wherever they are and no longer need to be in the office, at a desk, or have a PC to access their corporate desktop. They can continue to be productive even with inclement weather, traffic, or other events preventing them from getting to the office.

  • Mobile and BYOD from anywhere: Virtual desktop clients enable mobile devices, tablets, and noncorporate-owned devices to connect securely to corporate desktops. Following the flexible working theme, users can now choose a device that suits them to access their corporate desktop. Whether it be a tablet, smart phone, or a non-Windows platform, users can still access their corporate desktop securely from remote locations.

  • Operational cost savings: Implementing a virtual desktop environment and adopting operational best practices around image, patch, and profile management with centralized application deployment will result in saving operational expenditure (OPEX), compared to traditional desktop management. Capital expenditures (CAPEX) are still required to support the virtual desktop environment. One of the things I hear all the time is that deploying VDI will reduce costs. The thing to point out is that yes, it will reduce OPEX, but typically, the CAPEX at the beginning of a VDI project will be higher as you deploy the infrastructure. Overall, though, the costs will reduce through savings in the management of the solution, and you will not be caught in the typical three-year-PC-refresh cycle trap.


A brief history of VMware and VDI

The concept of virtualizing Windows desktops or the idea of VDI has been around since as early as 2002, when VMware customers started virtualizing desktop workloads and hosting them on VMware Server and ESX servers in the data center. As there was no concept of a connection broker at that time, customers simply connected using the RDP protocol directly to a dedicated desktop virtual machine running Windows XP.

It wasn't until 2005 that VMware first showed the idea of having the concept of a connection broker. By demonstrating a prototype at VMworld, VDI entered the limelight, raising the profile of the technology. It was also at the same event that companies such as Propero showed their version of a connection broker. Propero would later become the Horizon View Connection Server.

In early 2006, VMware launched the VDI alliances program with a number of technology vendors, such as Citrix, HP, IBM, Sun, and Wyse Technology, joining this program (

By 2007, the prototype connection broker was introduced to customers to help with the development, before it was given to the VMware product organization to productize it and turn it into a real product. The released product was called Virtual Desktop Manager 1.0 (VDM). The year 2007 was a busy year, and it also saw VMware acquire Propero for $25 million, to accelerate their connection broker development, leading to the VMworld announcement and release of VDM 2.0 in January 2008.

After the release of VDM 2.0 in early 2008, a second release came at the end 2008 along with a new name: VMware View 3.0. This was also the year that Citrix entered the VDI market.

VMware View 4.0 was released in 2009 and was the first version to include the PCoIP protocol from Teradici. PCoIP delivered a much richer user experience than RDP.

In 2010, VMware View 4.5 was released with new features such as local mode (offline desktops), PCoIP enhancements, Windows 7 support, and the ability to tier storage. This was also the year that VMware talked publically about the biggest VDI reference case to date with Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, who deployed 50,000 virtual desktop machines. You can read the case study at

The following year, in 2011, VMware View 4.6 was released with two notable new features. First was the iPad client, which allows a user to connect to their virtual desktop session on an iPad, using the PCoIP protocol. The second new feature was the PCoIP Secure Gateway function for the View Security Server, which allows users to connect to their virtual desktop without needing a VPN connection.

Later the same year, View 5.0 was released with more new features, aimed at improving the end-user experience, the key one being the introduction of Persona Management that allowed a user's profile to be independent from the virtual desktop. When a user logs in via the same profile to any virtual desktop, their profile is delivered on-demand. View 5.0 also introduced 3D graphic support using the latest vSphere 5.0 platform, as well as some major enhancements to the PCoIP protocol.

Although only a point release in May 2012, View 5.1 had a number of significant enhancements, especially around storage, with the introduction of the View Storage Accelerator, View Composer Array Integration, and the ability to scale the hosting infrastructure up to a 32-node cluster when using NFS storage. This version also added Radius two-factor authentication, improved USB device support, a standalone View Composer, and the ability support profile migration from XP to Windows 7 as well as from physical desktops to virtual desktops with Persona Management.

In March 2013, VMware View 5.2 was released, and to bring it in line with VMware's launch of the brand launch of Horizon (launched at the same time), it was renamed to Horizon View 5.2. In this release, there were a number of new features based on end-user experience, such as support for unified communications with Microsoft Lync 2013, hardware-accelerated graphics with Virtual Shared Graphics Acceleration (vSGA), and Windows 8 support. One of the biggest updates came in the form of a feature pack that allowed a user to access their desktop in an HTML 5 browser using the VMware Blast protocol.

A second release, later in 2013 with Horizon View 5.3, saw the introduction of Virtual Dedicated Graphics Acceleration (vDGA) that allowed a virtual desktop to have dedicated access to a GPU in the host. It is also the first release to support Windows Server 2008 R2 as the virtual desktop machine, meaning you can "skin" the operating system to look like a desktop. The main reason for this was that there is no Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) for Windows 7, so the license agreement doesn't allow you to deploy Windows 7 as a virtual desktop until you purchase a Microsoft Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license. In this model, you do not require a VDA license per user. The other advantage is that Windows Server 2008 Datacenter Edition allows you to have unlimited virtual machines. It's licensed on a per-CPU model. It's worth noting that we are running the Windows Server operating system as a replacement to the desktop operating system and not as a desktop session.

Finally, Horizon Mirage support was added to manage full clone desktops.

The final 5.x release arrived in 2014, with Horizon View 5.3.1 adding support for Virtual SAN (VSAN). The timeline is shown pictorially in the following diagram:

That brings us right up-to-date and to the latest version, VMware Horizon 6. In the next section, we will look at VMware Horizon 6 in more detail.


VMware Horizon 6

VMware Horizon 6 is the next generation of VMware's EUC vision and strategy to deliver desktop computing environments and publishing applications. In the previous sections, we have discussed some of the differences between VDI and SBC RDS, and the advantages of the two solutions. However, now Horizon 6 offers the ability to deliver VDI desktops, published applications, and session-based desktops from one platform.

Following on from the VMware acquisition of AirWatch, VMware now has two distinct brands:

  • Horizon for desktop computing

  • AirWatch for enterprise mobility management

This book focuses on the brand Horizon, the solution for the delivery of desktops and applications as centralized services.

VMware Horizon 6 was announced on April 9, 2014 with the latest 6.1 version being released on March 12, 2015 and comes packaged in three different editions.

In the next section, we will cover the different product editions for Horizon 6.


The VMware Horizon 6 product family

There are three different editions within the Horizon 6 portfolio, each with a different theme, with each successive edition adding to the previous edition. The themes are as follows:

  • Application delivery

  • Desktop management (physical and virtual) and infrastructure

  • Management and automation

The three editions are described in the following section.

Horizon View Standard Edition

With Horizon View Standard Edition, you have the core VDI solution and all of its features, along with the licensing for the hosting infrastructure–vSphere and vCenter for desktop. Also included is ThinApp, VMware's application virtualization/packaging solution, that allows you to extract applications from the underlying OS and deliver them independently.

Horizon Advanced Edition

With Horizon Advanced Edition, the theme is all about application delivery and management. This is the first edition that includes application publishing as part of the View solution; this allows an application running on a Microsoft RDSH back end to be published via the VMware View client using the PCoIP protocol. This feature means that a user can now just have an individual application delivered to their client device rather than on a full-blown desktop.

The Advanced Edition also includes VMware Mirage to deliver centralized image management with the ability to manage View desktops and offline desktops delivered to a Mac or Windows laptop. For a detailed overview of VMware Mirage, you can read VMware Horizon Mirage Essentials, Peter von Oven, Packt Publishing.

Also included in this edition is an application catalog and a brokering functionality. The catalog allows users to select applications from a central catalog of entitled applications. The brokering feature is delivered using VMware Workspace and allows the brokering of ThinApp packages, SaaS-based applications, XenApp-published applications, and Microsoft Office 365.

The final component of Advanced Edition is the inclusion of VSAN for desktops.

Horizon Enterprise Edition

Horizon Enterprise Edition builds on the previous two versions and adds features to deliver operations management and automation functionality. This includes vRealize Operations for Horizon and vCenter Orchestrator with a plugin for desktops.

One of the biggest additions to the Enterprise Edition is AppVolumes, which gives you the ability to deliver just-in-time applications to a virtual desktop.

The table in the following screenshot details the features available in each edition:

In this book, we will be covering all three of the Horizon 6 editions.



In this chapter, we had a look at what VDI is and covered some of the history of where it all began for VMware, demonstrating that VMware was, and still is, at the forefront of virtual desktop and application delivery.

We then went on to discuss the latest release, VMware Horizon 6.0, and the three different editions that are available, namely: Horizon View, Horizon Advanced, and Horizon Enterprise.

In the next chapter, we will take a deep dive into the technology of View and start looking at the architecture.

About the Authors

  • Peter von Oven

    Peter von Oven is an experienced technical consultant and has spent the past 25 years working with customers and partners designing technology solutions. During his career, Peter has presented at key IT events, such as VMworld, IP EXPO, and various VMUGs and CCUG events. He has also worked in senior presales roles and presales management roles for Fujitsu, HP, Citrix, and VMware, and has been awarded VMware vExpert four years running. In 2016, Peter founded his own company, Droplet Computing, where he works today as the Founder and Chief Technology Officer.Peter got his first taste for writing when assisting with some of the chapters in Building End-User Computing Solutions with VMware View, which then lead to five other Packt titles.

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  • Barry Coombs

    Barry Coombs is the Operations Director for Computerworld Systems LTD, a UK-based, virtualization-focused, value-added reseller. He has been focusing on virtualization, storage, and end user computing technologies as a customer, consultant, and architect for the last nine years. Barry is responsible for identifying new technologies as well as speaking and hosting customer-focused events associated with virtualization, storage, and end user computing. Barry has been awarded VMware's vExpert award for contributions to the VMware community every year since 2010. He is also part of the VMUG leadership team for South West UK. Barry has been a co-author of two VMware Horizon books.

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Mastering VMware Horizon 6
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