Article: The Case for VDI
by Sherif Alghali
Sherif Alghali is a Consulting Architect at Fulcrum Technology Solutions. Alghali joined the Infrastructure team in 2019.
Ever since 2010, we’ve heard about the “year of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).” Each year, its champions in the End User Computing (EUC) space has been touting VDI’s maturity and imminent widespread adoption. Unfortunately, that has not really been the case. Many years of hype and changes in the EUC space have left organizations confused about VDI and its uses at best and, at worst, wary of the solution.
What is VDI?
VDI is best defined as a technology in which one desktop, running in its own virtual machine, can be provisioned to a user on a one-to-one basis. This uses the same technology used to virtualize a server virtual machine (ESXi, XenServer, etc.) to virtualize a desktop operating system for an end user. Then, users can interact with the desktop using either a thin client or an HTML5 browser.
What are the advantages of VDI?
One of the main advantages of VDI is mobility. Now that the desktop has been virtualized, it can be delivered to almost any endpoint that can support either an application or HTML5 browser. This gives workers the flexibility to work from home or for workers to ‘hot desk’ without taking a laptop, tablet, or any other productivity device with them from site to site.
Agility and Flexibility
Building upon mobility, VDI allows organizations to quickly spin up and provision VMs for new employees, contractors, or business partners. No longer does an order have to be placed with a hardware vendor days or weeks ahead of time. A new VM with all the necessary software installed can be created and assigned in seconds. Moreover, for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environments, users can securely access their desktops without the administrator worrying about the devices being another attack vector.
While using VDI, all an organization’s sensitive data resides in the datacenter as opposed to the traditional desktop model. This means that when a project is over or an employee leaves the company, the data does not leave with them. With BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) becoming more common, this is crucial to prevent data leakage or loss of proprietary intellectual property. Moreover, in cases of ransomware, the virtual machines can be destroyed and recreated from templates in minutes. This eliminates the hassle of reimaging hundreds or even thousands of desktop PCs in a traditional environment.
Since VDI is centrally managed, this means that routine maintenance, upgrades, and software deployments can be managed by IT without any user involvement. Additionally, time is greatly reduced for help desk staff providing desk side support due to hardware failure. Lastly, a VDI environment allows a company to easily back up all user-related data, since that data now resides within the datacenter instead of at the endpoint.
What use cases are best suited for VDI?
Even with these advantages, the cost and complexity of VDI is not suited for every organization or use case. Some ideal scenarios include disaster recovery (DR), where an organization can provide remote VM desktops to users which can be accessed from anywhere and from any PC. In construction industries, VDI can allow project managers, superintendents, field accountants, and others to move between branch offices and job sites without the need for specialized equipment. Another scenario might be joint ventures, where users from partner organizations might need access to your IT resources; where you might have provisioned PCs for these users, you can instead provide a VDI instance which the users can access from BYOD-style devices.
VDI has matured substantially over the last decade. The technology has more advantages with fewer limitations since the early iterations; yet, as with any technology, an organization will only find success when they define their use cases and ensure alignment with the advantages provided by the technology.
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