The Pros and Cons of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

VDI can keep your employees happy by allowing them to use their favourite devices. However, it also poses a number of challenges.


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Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), or hosting client desktops within a virtualized machine on a centralized server, is one of the hottest cloud trends of the year. A global market survey reported that 91% of organizations with more than 500 employees plan to leverage virtualized desktops by 2013. This is a great statistic for organizations that want to use cloud solutions to help manage initiatives such as ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD).

The main reason that organizations adopt VDI is to give employees more flexibility in choosing devices. When you install VDI onto a device, you’ll no longer have to worry about someone’s kid getting on the device and flooding it with malware picked up from surfing unsecured. The VDI should – assuming the correct security policies are in place – protect the corporate infrastructure.

With VDI, employees are happy that they get the device they want, IT is less stressed about ordering and provisioning lots of laptops that need quick upgrades (and listening to grumpy employees complain about these devices), and the security folks are less worried about people trying to thwart their good intentions and policies.

However, there are several areas of concern that you must consider before adopting VDI, including:

Security

Virtualized desktops allow for centralized policies when it comes to configuration, patching and in some cases DLP (where the data is locked down and the USB/email capabilities associated with confidential data management are enforced at the endpoint). This is similar to SSL VPN, but all the data is isolated within the virtual desktop and not resident on the host machine, making it more secure in some ways.

On the other hand, because you are leveraging a virtual machine that is hosted off-site with other virtual machines, you have to make sure that endpoint protection is utilized to help prevent malware and viruses from spreading to other virtual machines through the hypervisor.

Availability

As long as you have the right controls in place to ensure that your cloud environment is available at all times, your VDI deployment should be available 24/7. However, if there is an outage in the data centre where the desktops are hosted, you may not have the ability to access desktops and files during this period. For example, when VDI is used in retail environments, if the virtual infrastructure goes down during business hours, it could lead to significant loss of revenue and possible brand damage.

How to Decide if VDI is Right for You

When it comes to deciding if VDI is a viable solution for your organization, the first step is to identify your user profiles. If you have a significant ratio of remote workers, VDI could be a great option to provide more security, but understand that it is reliant on the availability of the infrastructure.

If your workforce is mostly in-house and you have a significant stock of hardware already up and running, the costs to switch to a VDI model might not be justifiable. However, VDI is a great option as laptops come up for refresh, as it gives employees more choice in their work environment and saves IT costs at the same time.

What about you? What do you feel are the biggest benefits of VDI, and how do you plan for its challenges? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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