Pros and Cons of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Improved security, long-term savings and centralised management are all pitched as some of the top reasons to invest in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), but the technology also has some roadblocks worth mentioning.
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is the technology that hosts desktop environments and applications on a central server. In the modern digital workplace, VDI is what facilitates secure and convenient remote access to the company's network.
Yes, while VDI means end users can easily access company data, applications and networks from their devices from anywhere in the world, the technology can come with some drawbacks.
Before you invest in VDI, it is important to understand what you are in for. In this article, I will highlight some key advantages and disadvantages to help you determine if it's the right move for you.
VDI facilitates standardisation at large scale, making it easy for organisations to centrally manage end-user workspaces.
With virtualisation, all end-user workspaces can be configured and run the same way, with minimal complexity.
From a security perspective, virtualisation offers simplified protection by keeping end-user workspaces within a firewall-protected network. The centralised environment afforded by virtualisation also makes it easier for organisations to have visibility over their systems and an accurate understanding of their compliance.
For larger organisations attempting to build systems at scale, virtualisation makes sense. But, there are also benefits to be had for small and medium organisations. Take Microsoft’s cloud-PC Windows 365 service. This virtual desktop solution enables the operating system and applications to be streamed in any web browser and can be available on any PC or mobile device. Such a robust solution could benefit businesses that have a shortage of VDI expertise.
With so many benefits, it is no surprise IT teams get excited by the promise of VDI. The idea of having all systems isolated feels safe and attractive.
Where VDI comes unstuck, however, is its lack of flexibility to meet the evolving needs of a modern workspace. Having visibility and control is important, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of user experience and productivity.
VDI Disadvantages and misconceptions: cost, security and mitigation
There are three misconceptions about virtualisation worth mentioning.
Misconceptions can easily become disadvantages if not considered or prepared for.
The first is that virtualisation is not expensive. When you take into account compute costs for fast and high-quality services, achieving performance in a virtualised cloud environment is very expensive. Running many concurrent workspaces in cloud environments is very demanding on compute.
The second misconception is that if you take care of your cloud infrastructure, your end-user devices will take care of themselves. End-user devices always need to be secured, no matter where they are. If your end user is working on a potentially compromised device and has access to your cloud environment, you can’t be sure their access won’t lead to a breach of the organisation.
I have found organisations with virtualised desktops in situations where they have suffered multiple damaging ransomware attacks. The idea that you can mitigate the impacts of such an event by securing assets in a data centre is another myth. As soon as you give an end-user access to your environment, that access can be compromised.
It is not just a matter of securing devices. Businesses need to ensure that when an end user is accessing their organisation on any device, they have management over it so it can be patched, secured and monitored.
End user challenges of a VDI
In my experience, the biggest problem with virtualised desktops is the impact on end-users; both their productivity and employee satisfaction.
End users who have worked with and without virtualisation tend to speak much less favourably of virtualisation compared to working on their own machine. This is an issue for any company that cares about their employee satisfaction, brand and productivity.
For starters, virtualisation is completely dependent on network quality.
It is impossible for a virtualised workspace to function offline.
Furthermore, slow or unreliable internet has a major impact on the employee workday.
Although hardware and internet speeds have improved to make virtual desktops better than before, end users still don’t get the same immediacy of working on their own machine with its own operating system. Loading a new application is a good example.
When you load an application via virtualisation, you are potentially competing with hundreds of other users for resources.
To overcome this issue is very expensive.
How to maximise your VDI
While remote work and hybrid work environments are becoming more commonplace, implementing VDI involves a level of financial and resource investment—something not all companies can afford or are willing to risk.
But, what if the drawbacks of VDI could be easily mitigated?
Devicie makes up for all the areas where virtualisation falls short—providing uncompromising security on end-user devices in a way that supports a modern and flexible workspace.
Following end-user authentication, Devicie configures and deploys security controls to each end-user device across an organisation.
Devicie also manages the security and compliance of those devices, ensuring they are always up-to-date and auditable, no matter where they are.
Devicie also uses technologies like Microsoft Conditional Access that can limit where an end user can log on, what times they can log on, and from which devices. In addition, Devicie shows the compliance posture of all end-user devices, and automatically updates or remediates those devices before they are given access to an organisation.
None of this is intended to negate the value of virtualisation.
It is, however, intended to highlight that virtualisation is not effective alone at mitigating security risks. Additionally, virtualisation should not be used without seriously considering the efficiency of the whole organisation and the impact on the various end-user roles.