What is Linux VDI?
VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solutions can be implemented using Linux-based operating systems as the host for virtual desktops or as the client for accessing virtual desktops. To give context, various parts of a VDI solution may be Linux based:
- Linux-Based VDI Hosts: Many hypervisors are based around a Linux OS meaning server side there are Linux-based servers. Many of these hypervisors will support both Windows and Linux desktops. Some non-Linux based hypervisors also support Windows or Linux guest VMs / desktops. This means you may be using Linux as the host operating system for your virtual desktop infrastructure and that may be independent of whether Linux end-user desktops are available.
- Linux Thin Clients and endpoints: On the client side, you can use Linux-based thin clients or devices to access virtual desktops hosted on VDI servers. Thin client operating systems (OSs) are lightweight, often Linux-based, and designed specifically for VDI access. This may also suit end users who prefer to use Ubuntu or other Linux OSs on their laptops but need access to a Windows desktop to use applications unavailable on non-Windows OSs.
- Linux as a Virtual Desktop: It's also possible to create virtual desktops using Linux as the guest operating system (i.e., the user accesses a desktop running a Linux OS rather than a Windows OS such as Windows 10 / 11). Organizations that rely heavily on Linux applications or have specific Linux-based use cases may opt for this approach. Many VDI and DaaS solutions, such as VMware Horizon and Citrix support Linux desktops.
In general, “Linux VDI” is most likely to refer to the OS of the desktops delivered, i.e., the “Linux as a Virtual Desktop” description above and is likely to refer to a DaaS or digital workspace solution such as Citrix Linux VDI, as described, here: Monitoring Citrix Linux VDI (eginnovations.com).
Why do organizations use Linux VDI / digital workspaces / DaaS?
Here are some reasons why organizations opt for Linux VDI over Windows VDI:
- Cost Savings: Linux is open source, which means it's typically free to use and doesn't require licensing fees. This can significantly reduce the total cost of ownership, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious organizations. In some markets such as low-cost education use cases, Linux VDI for 2D desktops allows institutions to avoid Microsoft licensing costs especially if Open Office type apps are then used as alternatives to Office / Microsoft 365 (Word, Excel, and so on). This 2D desktop market is very similar to the Chrome ecosystem, also seen widely in education.
- Specialist or Legacy Apps: Linux’s strength and history in HPC (High Performance Computing) means that many high-end VFX / 3D / CAE and computational apps are developed and only available on Linux platforms. In cases where organizations have legacy applications that rely on Unix or Linux compatibility, using Linux VDI can be a more natural choice.
- Lightweight: Many Linux distributions are known for their efficiency and low resource consumption. This makes them suitable for running on older hardware or in resource-constrained environments, which can lead to cost savings on hardware upgrades.
- Security: Linux is often praised for its security features. It benefits from the open-source community's scrutiny, and many Linux distros include strong security measures by default. This can be appealing for organizations with high-security requirements.
- Containerization / Virtualization Integration: Linux Containers (LXC) and the fact many hypervisor kernels are built around Linux make it a natural choice for many virtualization and containerized use cases.
- Performance: Linux often performs well, especially in server and virtualized environments. It can provide excellent performance for VDI deployments, particularly when optimized for specific workloads.
- Open-Source Ecosystem: Linux offers a vast ecosystem of open-source software and tools, which can be leveraged to build and customize VDI solutions to suit unique needs.
- Developer-Friendly: Developers often prefer Linux for its command-line tools, development environments / IDEs, and compatibility with programming languages. Linux VDI can provide a consistent development environment.
- Philosophical or Ideological Reasons: Some individuals and organizations choose Linux for philosophical reasons, such as a preference for open-source software, a desire for more control over their systems, or a commitment to the principles of free software.
What are the differences between an open-source and an enterprise supported Linux OS?
Open-source and enterprise-supported Linux operating systems have some key differences in terms of their development, licensing, support, and target audience. Here are the main distinctions:
- Open Source: Open-source Linux distributions are released under open-source licenses like the GNU General Public License (GPL). These licenses allow anyone to view, modify, and distribute the source code freely. Users can often download and use these distributions at no cost.
- Enterprise Supported: Enterprise-supported Linux distributions typically include some proprietary components or services on top of the open-source core. These proprietary components might require a paid license or subscription to access.
- Open Source: Open-source Linux distributions are developed collaboratively by a community of volunteers and organizations. The development process is open to anyone, and contributors come from various backgrounds.
- Enterprise Supported: Enterprise-supported Linux distributions are often developed and maintained by a specific company or organization, which provides additional support, security updates, and proprietary features tailored for enterprise use. The development process is typically more controlled and may prioritize stability over bleeding-edge features.
- Open Source: Support for open-source Linux distributions is primarily community-driven. Users can find help in online forums, mailing lists, and documentation. Some companies or individuals may offer commercial support for specific open-source distributions, but it's not as standardized or comprehensive as enterprise support.
- Enterprise Supported: Enterprise-supported Linux distributions come with dedicated support options, including help desks, priority bug fixes, and service-level agreements (SLAs). This support is typically critical for businesses running mission-critical applications and infrastructure.
Stability and Reliability:
- Open Source: Open-source Linux distributions often focus on providing the latest features and updates. While they can be very stable, the emphasis is sometimes on rapid development, which may not be suitable for all enterprise use cases.
- Enterprise Supported: Enterprise-supported distributions prioritize stability, long-term support (LTS), and predictable release cycles. This makes them well-suited for critical enterprise workloads that require consistent performance and security updates over an extended period.
- Open Source: Open-source Linux distributions are suitable for a wide range of users, from academics to individual hobbyists to small businesses. They are often used in non-mission-critical environments or for experimentation.
- Enterprise Supported: Enterprise-supported Linux distributions are designed with the specific needs of large organizations in mind. They offer features like centralized management, security enhancements, and long-term support, making them ideal for business-critical applications and infrastructure.
Because of the unsupported nature of open-source Linux OSs and the wide range of varieties and versions, most enterprise VDI vendors only support the use of a subset of Linux OSs, mainly enterprise supported ones. Moreover, support is also usually limited to specific versions which are proven and stable – often those labelled as LTS (Long Term Service) releases.
What are the most popular Linux OSs used for guest VMs in Linux VDI?
Popular Linux OSs supported by Linux VDI vendors include - Amazon Linux, Debian, RHEL, CentOS, Rocky Linux, SUSE and Ubuntu.
When choosing a Linux VDI system, you should review the vendor’s support for guest OSs. Some links that may help:
- For Citrix Linux VDI guest support on XenServer, please see: https://docs.xenserver.com/en-us/citrix-hypervisor/system-requirements/guest-os-support.html
- For Citrix CVAD / XenDesktop support, you should review the latest Linux VDA (Virtual Delivery Agent) documentation, see: System requirements | Linux Virtual Delivery Agent 2305 (citrix.com)
- For VMware Horizon support, see: VMware Tools compatibility with guest operating systems (90203)
- Linux OSs offered for Amazon WorkSpaces are listed in their FAQ, here: Amazon WorkSpaces FAQs | Persistent Desktop Virtualization
For intensive Linux apps, GPUs are often leveraged and the drivers for these are also often only supported for certain Linux OS. You should also validate the support matrix for the GPUs if using Linux VDI in conjunction with them, see:
If using GPU enabled Linux VDI, you should also check whether Linux GPU usage is covered by your monitoring tools, eG Enterprise is one of very few tools that monitors GPU usage in Linux VDI environments.