It’s the Year of the Cloud Virtual Desktop!

Oct 19, 2020

Virtual desktop and server-based remote desktop infrastructure are not new concepts to any seasoned IT professional. With roots dating back to 1998 when officially supported as part of Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition, which in turn built upon Citrix’s Winframe technology which appeared on the market in 1995, options for connecting to remote Windows desktops have been available for twenty-five-plus years.

In the pre-web age, virtual desktops were critical infrastructure leveraged to present legacy applications to end-users who either lacked the workstation horsepower or bandwidth to support them. Those legacy applications also tended to have complex installation and deployment requirements, which complicated the deployment of new user workstations and increased administrative overhead.

Later, as privacy and security compliance requirements were rolled out and tightened, being able to centralize management and information storage in corporate datacenters increased the appeal of virtual desktops and terminal session servers. The presentation lifecycle was completing the circle; we had moved from dumb terminals and mainframes to full desktops to a hybrid of the two, where much of business intelligence processing was returned to powerful servers instead of occurring at the end-point.

Naturally, as businesses move more of their critical functions into cloud-based solutions, it only follows that Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions such as Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop offering would follow a similar path and become more compelling as companies adapt to their compliance landscape and try to balance that with accessibility, manageability, and efficiency.

In today’s business and technical landscape, there are four primary drivers of VDI interest and adoption:

  • Security and regulation
  • Changing workforce sizes and composition
  • Certain employee roles
  • Specialized workloads
  • Business Continuity

For financial services, healthcare and government entities that have specific regulatory-driven requirements, VDI helps to simplify and streamline their desktop management needs and overhead. Organization policies regarding data control and monitoring can be translated into technical policies that are more easily applied to centrally managed solution such as VDI, which reduces administrative costs and mitigates the potential for unwanted propagation of controlled or sensitive data. VDI supports a variety of additional identification and authentication controls that are difficult or impossible with a fleet of individual devices with varying capabilities and use-cases, further improving overall data security.

Today’s marketplace demands that companies be more dynamic than ever, with workforces that swell and contract based on project needs or market conditions. Supporting a variety of highly diverse teams and strategies is simplified by the ability of VDI to rapidly provision new virtual workstations when needed and then to collapse the fleet when those resources are no longer required. Rather than acquire new hardware that must be purchased, customized, identified, tracked, deployed and, eventually, recovered, VDI is supported by many types of endpoints and end-users can leverage their existing devices for access to the assigned virtual desktop.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure also improves support for varying work roles and end-user needs. These can range from the traditional “power user” who needs a wide variety of full-featured applications with enough horsepower to run those applications efficiently, to a mobile or field worker whose use-case requires access to specific line-of-business applications and little else. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) workers might leverage a variety of individually owned devices ranging from full desktops to ultraportables or tablets to access resources. Because VDI shifts computational workloads and storage back to the datacenter or cloud, concerns about hardware capability and data security are all but eliminated.

As VDI solutions are backed by cloud-scale resources with, effectively, limitless computational capability, including auto-scaling virtual processors, high-performance virtual GPUs and specialized hardware, the need to deploy expensive, specialized workstations for creative and engineering users is drastically reduced. The heavy lifting is handled in the datacenter or cloud, so less expensive, quieter and more energy efficient devices can be leveraged by end-users. A power-sipping thin client or ultraportable notebook can be attached to expansive (but increasingly efficient) monitors located anywhere commodity internet connectivity is available to create an on-demand workstation that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars and be bound to a single physical workspace.

All of these scenarios are bolstered by the reality that cloud-hosted VDI untethers the workforce from a traditional office space and enables them to be productive from nearly any location. From a business continuity perspective, should an office space become unavailable for any reason, workers can rapidly shift to work-from-home or other locations and simply get back to work. Nearly every device in common use has free or nearly free apps available that, once installed, allow their users to resume their work quickly and seamlessly from whatever location is best suited to the need.

In summary, a modern Virtual Desktop Infrastructure can offer many benefits to business, including improved security and streamlined compliance enforcement, reduced lead time and complexity for supporting rapidly changing workforce sizes and needs, increased flexibility and support for irregular workloads and computational needs, as well as significantly response to disaster recovery and business continuity challenges.