Thin Clients and Virtualization Part II – Deploying Windows XP

In my last post I discussed the basics of virtualization – allowing a single computer to run a number of different operating systems by creating virtual machines that exist essentially as a software application. These machines are then run when and where needed, and can be moved from one physical machine to another without having to worry about interaction with other applications. For instance, once you have a Windows Server configured with all your applications you can simply move that entire setup to another PC within a matter of minutes and have it run the same way.

I also compared these virtual machines with Thin Client technology. While virtualization gives you a way to run a standard build (with its applications) on a number of different machines, Thin Clients allow you to run the same build multiple times on a single machine, and with much less overhead. With Thin Clients you start up a standard version of Microsoft Server, install applications, and then start plugging in Thin Clients. All users run the same OS so there is just one server to maintain.

Now – A novel idea for deploying Windows XP…

Windows XP continues to be popular, especially with companies who have settled on a secure build that needs to remain unchanged. This is often the case with pharmaceutical companies – they have an approved “locked down” XP configuration that must be used whenever a new PC is deployed. Some are looking to use one of the virtualization tools to put this sanctioned build on PCs with a different underlying operating system. But Thin Client technology offers a much better solution.

You may be tempted to load an XP build multiple times on a Windows Server, using this as an initial application for the Thin Clients. You would then start multiple virtual machines, each one an XP machine, all running as different users on the Server. But this eats up a huge amount of resources. Instead you could take advantage of the fact that some Thin Client management software packages (like ACP’s ThinManager) allows you to specify the Admin connection to Windows XP as a host.

Set up a PC with VMWare and start a number of XP virtual machines. Each of these virtual XP machines will have its own IP address. When you configure the Thin Client from within ThinManager, do not put in the IP address of a Terminal Server (as you normally do) but instead put in the IP address of one of the XP builds. The Thin Client will display the XP build without having to go through Terminal Services. Using Thinmanager you will also have the option of displaying a number of these XP builds on a single Thin Client, switching between them or displaying them each on a different monitor.

You have now achieved the goal of deploying these virtual XP machines wherever you want around the plant just by running a network cable and plugging in a Thin Client. If the build changes in the future, simply make the changes on the XP hosts and all of the Thin Clients will immediately be running the new version, assuring that all instances are identical.

Tom Jordan

V.P. of Marketing - Automation Control Products