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VMware introduced a new component in Horizon View version 5.3: The Direct-Connection Plugin. This allows View users to connect to a virtual desktop without first having to connect to a Connection Server. This article will provide a high-level overview of the feature, explain what some of the possible scenarios are for its use and how to configure it.
When you install Horizon View you must install the Connection Server. This is also the server that contains the admin console and it is the broker that sends your users to the correct virtual desktop.
In Figure 1, you see the View clients are connected to the Connection Server and this server connects them to the virtual machine (VM) where the Horizon View Agent is running. Besides PCs, you can also use Macs, thin clients, zero clients or mobile devices with IOS or Android with View client.
The initial connection from a client is always to a Connection Server but once authentication has taken place and the correct desktop that is available to the user is identified, the connection can also be direct from the View client to the View Agent. This is called a Direct Connection -- the opposite of using a tunneled connection -- and it's up to the administrator to decide which type of connection to use. This is not the same direct connection as the Direct Connection Plugin. For the Direct Connection Agent, you still need a Connection Server to handle the authentication and to identify the correct VM for the user. And that is exactly the part that the Direct Connection Agent handles.
Direct Connection Agent explained
When using the Direct-Connection Plugin, the end user with a View client no longer connects to a Connection Server but connects to the VM running the View Agent.
You no longer need a Connection Server for end users to connect to their desktops. This is not something you want to use in a large-scale deployment because you will have to take care of users-to-desktops connections manually. (Normally, this is taken care of by the broker/Connection Server). And this brings us to the point when you want to deploy this new agent.
Use cases for the Direct-Connection Plugin
The Direct-Connection Plugin is best used in small scale deployments or at branch offices. Let's say you have 10 to 20 employees in an office and you want to use virtual desktops. If you have enough bandwidth then it might be possible for them to connect to the Connection Server at the main office where you also have your ESXi server. But when the bandwidth is not sufficient, you can place an ESXi server at the branch office. That would also mean you have to deploy a Connection Server there, which means it will be a new View Instance, since the connection between Connection Servers cannot be on links that have more than 5 ms latency. Within the new View Instance you must set up a pool and user entitlements among other things and manage them remotely. With the Direct Connection Agent, you still deploy an ESXi host to the branch office but you can just run 10 or 20 VMs and assign each user to a virtual desktop manually. You will have to manage this setup too but it's much simpler.
Another use case is a small business deployment where a small number of desktops will be deployed. For 10 or 20 desktops you normally would have to install a Connection Server and configure pools, user entitlements and other View policies. And with the Direct Connection Agent it's much simpler to just assign each user to a virtual desktop. You still need to deploy the virtual desktops but in a small deployment you were probably already going to do that with full clones. Using Composer with linked clones is not something you would typically use in a smaller environment.
The new feature isn't necessary for everything though. When end users want to access VMs remotely, the Direct-Connection Plugin does allow for access through network address translation and firewalls but it's really better when this functionality is needed to deploy a Connection Server with a View Security server.
Install and configure the Direct-Connection Plugin
The prerequisites for this component are that you have a VM running on ESXi that already has the Horizon View Agent installed. Once you download the Direct-Connection Plugin from VMware, install it inside the virtual desktop.
The next step is to configure which users are allowed to work with the virtual desktop. This is done through a group that is automatically created on the Windows desktop when the Plugin is installed. The name of the group is View Agent Direct-Connection Users.
You can assign local users to that group but it is also possible to assign other groups. If you want everyone to be able to connect to all desktops -- compared to when all employees could normally log in to all desktops -- then you could add a domain user group to the desktop if the desktop is a member of the domain.
The final step is the end user must connect to the right desktop. When starting the Horizon View client, enter the IP address or DNS name of the virtual desktop in the field where you would normally enter the IP address or DNS address of the Connection Server. Enter the username and password for a user that is a member of the group described before. If you create a simple and straightforward naming scheme where the end user's desktop contains the name of the user, this might be simple enough. For example, Susan can connect to Susan-PC, when registered in DNS with that name.
The Direct-Connection Plugin works with all types of clients, including with PcoIP Zero-Clients. The system requirements state the virtual desktops must run on ESXi but we have also tested the Direct-Connection Plugin on other systems (physical and in VMware Workstation) and it works. The only issue with those installations is that you need to have a Connection Server online when you install the Horizon View Agent because if it detects that Windows doesn't run in an ESXi-VM, it prompts you to enter a Connection Server's address. Once the Horizon View Agent and the Direct-Connection Plugin are installed, you can connect to the machine directly.
You might want to configure additional settings you normally would configure with policies in Horizon View, such as to allow USB access or not. This can be done with registry keys on the virtual desktop. The keys and values to use are listed in the VMware Horizon View Agent Direct-Connection Plugin Administration.
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