What is VDI?
Do remote working, BYOD and task/shift work keep your business ticking over? Because if so, you’re asking the right question: What is VDI? Lately, with the new era of working upon us, we’re asked this a lot.
VDI stands for virtual desktop infrastructure. It’s a type of desktop virtualisation that provides and manages virtual desktops. It’s gradually becoming the standard practice to support remote workers, contractors and partners, freeing them of the shackles of a specific physical device. With VDI, employees can access a company desktop from any compatible device — such as their personal computer, tablet or smartphone.
How does VDI work?
Time to introduce some techy terms. Virtual desktops become a thing because of a hypervisor, which is software that runs virtual machines (VMs). The hypervisor segments servers into VMs, which then host virtual desktops. A “connection broker” acts as the middleman between the users and the server.
All this complicated stuff goes on behind the scenes, of course. The user simply sees (and interacts with) a desktop on their remote device that looks just like the one in the office.
Why is VDI having a moment?
VDI has been around since 2016, so why is it such a hot topic right now?* The boom of remote work, hybrid work and BYOD (bring your own device) are mostly to blame. A 2020 survey found that 82% of leaders planned to open up remote working to employees, following the pandemic.
*Although not quite hot enough to become acceptable pub chat. Trust us: we’ve tried.
The world demands flexibility and businesses demand security. Services like cloud computing and VDI meet those needs, making it possible for remote workers to get the job done securely, and from anywhere in the world.
We’ve found the evolution of VDI to be rapid and recent and here at The IT Department, it’s been key to our business operations over the last couple of years. We moved to VDI shortly after COVID broke out, as a response to the development in SharePoint and Teams functionality for our own teams.
Even for us, as a tech company, we have people who need controlled, secure and predictable environments. VDI provides exactly that. Whenever our team members need to be away from their usual set-ups, the technology makes it easy to accommodate remote working.
Read more: What is cloud computing?
What are the benefits of VDI?
Getting your head around a new technology can be tricky. Some of them, like VDI, are worth the effort. Plus, The Virtual IT Department can help with set up and running, to lighten your workload and make it make sense.
Take a look at the key benefits of VDI.
- User mobility: Employees can do their job from any device and any place at any time, and workers out in the field can access the desktop on demand.
- Flexibility: Australia’s best talent wants to work for companies that offer flexibility. From picking the kids up from school to tap classes and dentist appointments, people have lives outside of the office and want a workplace that lets them shape their job around that.
- Security: Welcomed with open arms for its cyber security benefits, VDI means company data no longer has to be stored locally on multiple devices. And, since the data is stored on a server and not on each individual device, the theft of a device doesn’t automatically mean sensitive data is compromised.
- Centralised management: Your employee could be exploring the Amazon jungle (and just happen to have great WiFi) and your IT team would still be able to manage their virtual desktop. This means your company’s experts can patch and update employee systems from one location.
- Cost savings: The biggie. VDI equals lower hardware requirements: You won’t need to buy company-issued devices or other expensive hardware.
Persistent VDI vs. non-persisent VDI
Feeling like virtual desktop infrastructure is the way to go for your company? Awesome. Now you’ve got another decision to make: Persistent VDI or non-persistent VDI?
These terms describe the two types of desktops you can deploy in a VDI. Persistent VDI gives each user their own virtual desktop, at a one-to-one ratio.
- Users can access their own data for better personalisation
- The desktop is more familiar; locating shortcuts and files is easier
- IT can easily make the switch from a user’s physical desktop to their virtual one
- This takes more storage capacity
- Managing multiple desktops can be more complex and time-consuming than one master desktop
Non-persistent VDI sees multiple end-users share one single desktop. This means a user’s settings or data aren’t saved whenever they log off for the day. Instead, the desktop reverts back to its original state.
- It’s easier for your IT team to make company-wide updates
- If a desktop is compromised, you can simply reboot them to return them to a clean state
- Sensitive data is more secure
- Less storage is required
- Users can’t personalise their desktops
- IT will need to set up some desktop customisation to make sure users can access everything they need. This usually calls for “user environment virtualisation” which can be a complex process
If you’re asking us which one’s best, we don’t have a clear answer. We’ve found a combination of persistent and non-persistent VDI works well, based on the team needing access. We also usually find that, with more use of SharePoint to manage files and browser-based applications, non-persistent VDI helps to save costs on resources. This also reduces the number of challenges created by user changes.
If you need to weigh up your options in a little more detail, just give us a call.
What’s the difference between VDI and RDS?
This is the big question on everyone’s lips. Okay - a few clients I chatted with on the phone this month. Is VDI just the same as RDS (remote desktop solutions)?
Both terms describe a type of desktop virtualisation, making flexible remote working a possibility. But they’re still not quite the same thing. Certain features and their infrastructures set them apart. For example, while VDI runs on the Windows Client Operating System, RDS is a session-based model that runs on the Windows server.
If that doesn’t mean a whole lot and you want something more tangible, think of it this way: VDI gives you more options. Virtual desktop infrastructure isn’t limited to a single operating system or application architecture, so businesses get the choice between dedicated and shared desktops. Generally, it provides a better user experience.
Let’s let them have a stand-off.
For most of our customers, we recommend starting with VDI as the preference. If you have a legacy application or function that demands RDS or you have to run your server equipment yourselves, you might then want to consider RDS.
How can you implement VDI?
The high-level requirements for implementing VDI are hardware, management software and the deployment of Remote Desktop Services (RDS). Getting into the nitty-gritty can get tricky and we recommend calling on the help of an expert for security reasons (and an easier life.)
Whenever you do attempt implementation, remember the following:
- Be aware of the resources that each desktop uses, so you can meet the total demand. You can use a performance management tool for this.
- Understand what your users need - think about the level of internet connectivity and the number of applications they’ll interact with.
- Make sure your network is prepared to handle VDI. You’ll need to know about peak use times and demand changes to ensure reliable performance.
- Carry out a pilot test using monitoring software (usually supplied by your virtualisation provider) to make sure VDI will meet your needs.
- Keep the design as simple as you can.
- Work in user “pools”. By allocating a properly-sized resource to each, you can maximise cost and performance wins.
What is VDI in cybersecurity?
Bringing cybersecurity into the VDI mix just means using best practices to keep those virtual desktops secure. Because, while VDI lets remote workforces operate freely from anywhere, it does raise security concerns too.
Stolen passwords and compromised devices or sessions can make your business vulnerable to ransomware, malware, insider threats and network sniffing.
The fact that VDI lets users access their desktops remotely, storing data on the server, is a bonus for cybersecurity. However, you should still follow the VDI security best practices for that extra peace of mind.
- Disable any devices not synchronised within a particular time interval. This effectively locks out any potential hackers trying their luck.
- Establish strict access controls for desktops and apps across all devices.
- Use built-in encryption capabilities to protect sensitive data.
- Keep employee training up-to-date to reduce the risk of data leaks caused by human error.
- Apply the latest security patches and keep anti-malware software updated.