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Do Your Employees' Desktops Belong in the Cloud?"

By Eric Ruscheinski, Sr. Director of IT of Salient CRGT


Eric Ruscheinski, Sr. Director of IT of Salient CRGT

Conduct an Assessment before Deciding that a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is the Answer

Everyone seems to be in a big rush to push their corporate infrastructure into the cloud in order to offset cost and push the security of their data on their hosting partner. Some IT departments are utilizing the concept of a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). There are benefits to be gained from this strategy; however, you may be signing up for colossal task that may not be the best option for your organization.

"VDI is a better fit for users that do not need to work while offline"

The VDI enables access to an employee’s virtualized desktop, which is hosted on a remote service over the Internet. This structure makes it very useful in terms of data backup and recovery. Data is no longer lost or unsecure if a laptop is destroyed or stolen. Since everything is centrally managed, stored, and secured, virtual desktops eliminate the need to install, update, and scan for viruses on individual devices. The VDI concept also supports global access to your employees’ desktop systems.

However, before quickly deciding that VDI is your answer, take the time to assess your IT environment. Determine how your users perform their work activities with buy-in and support from senior leadership. Careful consideration of your business needs will help you determine if a cloud strategy will impact your organization–and avoid creating more work for your IT staff.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to adopting VDI–it depends on the organization and your employees’ business-use situation. So when considering factors such as flexibility, connectivity, security, and cost, here are my four key areas of concern to take into consideration during your assessment.

Personalization is More Difficult

A pitfall with VDI is that it’s designed to have the same suite of software for all users. Accommodating users who require unique applications or their own personalized settings can result in image proliferation, which is as difficult to manage (or more so) than operating separate workstations or laptops. In addition, personalization causes storage requirements to become strained, and specialized applications are difficult to virtualize.

VDI has a hard time supporting external devices such as scanners, printers, and smart cards. This issue extends to support for multiple monitors, bidirectional audio and video, streaming video, and USB devices. A lot of today’s users rely on special applications and external devices to accomplish their work. A close look at your current environment will let you know if standardization is a possibility for your employees.

Connectivity Becomes a Major Concern

A major drawback of a virtual desktop is that it requires an Internet connection. If that connection is lost or your server goes down, users will be unable to work because all their applications have become inaccessible. There is more risk of an enterprise-wide downtime with users not being able to access their data.

VDI is a better fit for users that do not need to work while offline (for example riding mass transit or attending a conference). Otherwise it will impact their productivity if they are not constantly online.

New Security Measures are Required

Virtual Desktop security problems are unique and require a security management suite tailored to this distributed structure. Your data may be accessible from new locations, so you need to consider new models of security that are not needed on standalone workstations. New safety procedures must be implemented and practiced before enhanced security is actualized. These specific security threats can include: Software attacks are more probable–this is based on the Virtual Desktop’s lessened dependency on hardware to protect the end user. Attacks on data are likely during rollout–this is due to the difficulty in isolating problems because of the Virtual Desktop’s interconnectivity. Greater damage is caused by a failure to backup and protect servers–because processing is handled centrally, application data must also be stored centrally. If a server dies, a larger portion of your workforce’s data is lost. Malware and viruses can spread faster through your employees’ desktops–because the virtual machines are connected through the hypervisor. You must ensure that endpoint protection is used.

This change in security threats is neither good nor bad. There will always be security issues, no matter what the configuration of your system. Moving to VDI requires training your IT department and all users in new security methodologies.

There are Significant Costs

The cost of creating your own VDI is a huge initial capital outlay to stand up your new environment. This will require a major investment in server hardware, and possibly in storage and network infrastructure. Procuring one big server means a large initial outlay, versus inexpensive PCs that can be acquired in stages or upgraded a few at a time. The alternative to building out your own VDI is to use a hosting company. This can run you about $125 per user per month, or $1,500 a year in total for each user. Laptop hardware is getting cheaper, faster, and lighter every quarter these days. For about the same $1,500 you can fully equip your employees with all the hardware and software (including repair support from the manufacturer) they need to be efficient and productive for about three years.

Another cost concern is bandwidth. You will need a much larger network pipe to support the hundreds or thousands of virtual desktops that will be constantly pinging each endpoint. A virtual desktop must use network bandwidth for each keystroke while a laptop only needs sporadic bandwidth usage to achieve the same user productivity. If you have employees who are only sparingly using their company issued laptops or simply putting them in a drawer when they go to their client site, you can save money by using virtual desktop rather than purchasing dedicated equipment for your employees. You will need to assess the needs of your users to determine if there is a potential cost savings with this strategy.

Final Thought

Before deciding if a VDI solution is right for your organization, consider what you want to achieve, the programs that you support for your customers, the cost benefits of it, and conduct your own assessment of your current IT environment.

Companies, regardless of size, rely on critical business data in order to succeed and flourish. Be ready to have clearly defined infrastructure objectives, assess their impacts, ensure IT is prepared to adopt new security measures, and have senior leadership buy-in. This will aid in helping you make the right decisions when considering whether to adopt a VDI solution. 

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