Nomenclature: What Exactly Is … ?

The virtualization industry is growing incredibly fast, and the lack of common nomenclature and acronyms has given rise to a variety of distinct dialects. It’s no wonder that we who speak 0s and 1s don’t understand each other at times, and industry marketing often causes even more confusion.

Some terms and acronyms are clearly understood among everyone in the industry, whereas others have multiple distinct definitions. As a result, you may be talking to someone about exactly the same subject matter—or not.

For example, the term “VDI,” or “virtual desktop infrastructure,” is fairly clear. It is generally defined as providing the user with a complete secondary desktop from a resource that is not local. But is that virtual desktop a workstation operating system or a server operating system? Windows Desktop Experience causes the server operating system to look and feel like a workstation, so the question is often irrelevant, because the user perceives the virtual desktop to be a workstation and doesn’t know or care about the operating system. To complicate this further, some define VDI as a server-hosted desktop, which is really multi-user as opposed to a true 1:1 VDI.

Let’s say that the user experiences an issue with an application that is installed on a server-based virtual desktop. The vendor begins troubleshooting the issue, sees that the base operating system is not a workstation OS, and advises that this is not supported. Because service providers cannot legally provide a workstation operating system for VDI unless the hardware resources are dedicated for each individual customer and the workstation licenses are provided by the customer, it is typically necessary to allocate a server-based operating system for VDI. As a result, in this case VDI has two meanings: virtual desktop based on a workstation-based operating system and virtual desktop based on a server-based operating system.

The nomenclature related to offering applications rather than desktops via a virtualized infrastructure is far more confusing. How many people refer to Horizon View 6 application hosting functionality as RDS hosted apps, application remoting, or something else? What exactly is Citrix XenApp? Should it generically be called server-based computing (SBC), application virtualization, virtualized apps, thin client, or…? This concept was initially referred to as SBC, but VDI can technically be defined as SBC unless it is deployed via a true workstation operating system.

There is no de facto or standardized term in the industry that defines the concept of presenting server-hosted applications in a multi-user environment. As a result, even technical people find it necessary to clarify what is being discussed before they can get into the 0s and 1s of the conversation.

The umbrella term “end user computing” (EUC) is becoming widely used, but what exactly is it? Everything related to a user using a computer is actually end user computing. In many arenas, the term “thin client” is widely used, but how does that compare to physical thin client devices offered by companies such as Dell, HP, and IGEL? If you tell users that they will be transitioned to a thin client next week, will they expect a new physical device or the ability to access a virtualized environment from the existing workstation device?

There is a multitude of other terms, such as “Software as a Service (SaaS)” and “cloud,” that have even more varied definitions. The confusion associated with this abundance of industry acronyms adds to the variety of dialects that are spoken in the virtualization industry. It’s no wonder that industry discussions are sometimes unclear and it is often necessary to ask, “What exactly is…?”

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Jo Harder
Jo Harder has been involved with virtualization for over 18 years, long before virtualization was the norm. After holding several sales and marketing positions, she started down the path of bits and bytes while at AT&T/Lucent Technologies. She then moved onto Citrix in 1999, where she became a Senior Architect. Her 11-year tenure included a combination of Citrix Consulting and Technical Readiness roles. After leaving Citrix, Jo provided consulting services for various clients for the next year. In her current role at a hosting provider, she is focused on cloud-based solutions for financial industry clients. In February 2015, she was awarded Citrix Technology Professional. Jo's diverse background of sales, marketing, management, and architectural/technical expertise brings a unique perspective to Virtualization Practice. She welcomes input from vendors, industry contacts, and end users and can be reached at

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