Demystifying Virtual Desktop Infrastructure: A Guide to the Benefits, Implementation, Solutions, and More

You’ve heard of cloud virtual desktops and your interest is piqued. The ability for your staff to access their desktops anywhere from nearly any device sounds unbelievable. But what else can the technology do, and how does it improve your business? 

Having a lot of questions about virtual desktop infrastructure is normal. While the technology has been around for over a decade, it’s recently gained popularity due to the rise of remote working. So what do you need to know about it? Should you adopt it? 

To make an informed decision, it’s important to understand the technology’s benefits, use cases, and more. However, before we get to those, what is a virtual desktop infrastructure anyways, and how does it work?

What Is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)?

Imagine if your desktop computer could be accessible anywhere in the world from any computer, tablet, or device. Whether you’re on vacation, a business trip, or at the airport, what if you could open your laptop or access a public computer to find your personal desktop on the monitor? 

While the above scenario may sound wild, it’s exactly what you get with a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). You and your teams can access personal desktops and OS from anywhere and any device. How does it work? 

VDI hosts virtual desktops on centralized servers, which are then delivered to you and your employees’ devices over the internet. Unlike a traditional PC where the processing is done locally on the computer, in VDI environments processing occurs on the centralized servers. This means all your virtual desktops can be managed from a single hosted solution. There are many benefits to this setup. But before we get to those, let’s explore the main components of a VDI environment:

  • User devices: The technology you and your staff use to access your virtual desktop, such as laptops, PCs, thin clients, and even mobile devices.

  • Connection broker: Also known as a session broker, this technology manages the connections between a user’s device and the virtual machine. The connection broker authenticates users, provides optimal performance via load balancing, and ensures a user is connected to the correct virtual desktop.

  • Hypervisor: While the name sounds complicated, the hypervisor’s job is fairly simple. It virtualizes centralized servers, allowing them to host multiple virtual desktops.

  • Protocol: This technology improves the functionality of your virtual desktop infrastructure. With protocols, you can add device support (printers, USB drives, scanners), enable high-definition display and graphic rendering, and more.

  • Application virtualization: A process in VDI that provides faster application availability than a traditional installation. 

  • Virtual desktop: The end product you and your staff use, virtual desktops function as physical desktops—but without all the hardware.

As for types of VDI architectures, you have two main choices: persistent and non-persistent. 

You’re likely familiar with a persistent desktop. It acts like your regular desktop you use on a day-to-day basis. The virtual desktop is personalized to your liking and changes are automatically saved on your personal virtual desktop as you work and make desktop changes. 

Non-persistent desktops act differently. They aren’t customizable and changes aren’t saved to the desktop after each session. Instead, users always access a generic desktop. This means that every time a new user logs in, no traces of the previous user’s desktop changes can be found. This solution is cheaper and better for employees who are doing repetitive tasks.

Who Uses VDI? Use Cases and Industries

In today’s world where remote working is increasingly common, there are several use cases where virtual desktop infrastructure can be beneficial. Let’s start with the obvious: 

  • Remote work environments: Because virtual desktops require no hardware, they are easy to distribute to remote employees and can be managed and updated from a central location, creating a more secure and flexible VDI workspace. 

  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): Security has long been an issue with BYOD policies. The problem stems from sensitive business data finding its way onto an employee’s personal device, which may or may not be secure. VDI eliminates this risk because all your company data stays on the virtual desktop and centralized servers. It never touches an employee’s device, meaning you have less endpoints to secure. 

  • Task and shift work: In places like call centers where employees perform a limited amount of tasks, non-persistent virtual desktops are an affordable solution that require less hardware. 

Industries of all kinds are adopting virtual desktop infrastructures because of their remote working capabilities and security. As mentioned above, VDI keeps sensitive data off your remote workers’ devices. It can also help with compliance, which is why industries like healthcare, accounting, and fintech are rapidly adopting it to maintain HIPAA, GDPR, PCI, and other regulations. The law industry loves the technology as well. For lawyers—who are regularly offsite at court, home, or a client’s location—it simplifies remote work and provides increased security and easy access for sensitive client documents. 

4 Major Benefits of VDI

In addition to added security, remote work capabilities, and BYOD, there are several other virtual desktop infrastructure benefits worth noting. 

  1. Save money on local hardware and IT infrastructure: Not only does VDI require less energy demands than a traditional desktop, but you can also save money on local workstation equipment. With VDI, you don’t have to purchase expensive, new hardware to run the latest operating system. Virtual desktops enable you to run the latest OS (or the OS of your choosing) on older devices, tablets, and thin clients. And if your business has a BYOD policy, VDI can save you money on issuing company devices while maintaining excellent security. As the technology allows you to scale up or down easily, downsizing won’t create a surplus of unused computers, nor will growth create an urgent demand for more. 

  2. Streamlined IT management: Centralized management of your virtual desktops streamlines your IT maintenance. This ensures a consistent, secure desktop environment for all your employees. Your IT team can easily configure, update, troubleshoot, and patch all your virtual desktops from a single, central location. VDI enables you to manage all virtual desktop PCs in one place at the same time.

  3. Speed and flexibility: As you can imagine, VDI’s standardized desktop technology management increases your IT team’s speed, including deployment of virtual desktops for new staff. The job can be completed almost instantaneously, which is beneficial for all companies, but even more so for those that regularly hire seasonal workers and contractors. As for flexibility, it’s essentially baked into a virtual desktop infrastructure. You and your employees can access your virtual desktop anywhere in the world from virtually any device, without being bogged down by clunky hardware. This enables flexible work arrangements, which are increasingly important for mobile workforces and remote working. 

  4. Security and standardization: Organizations that deal with legacy systems, compliance obligations, and vast amounts of data may struggle to standardize their practices and protocols, leaving gaps in their IT security. With VDI, standardization and security are inherent in the technology. As mentioned, it offers a consistent desktop experience among all employees—managed from a single, central location. This ultimately leads to greater security, especially for organizations with multiple offices and remote staff. All these benefits are part of why the financial industry is rapidly adopting the technology. 

How to Implement VDI Successfully

Now that you know the benefits of a virtual desktop infrastructure, how do you go about implementation? First, you need to assess your infrastructure requirements. A service like Azure Virtual Desktop (discussed in more detail shortly) simplifies this process considerably. Your only real infrastructure concerns are your network connectivity and the devices your staff will use to access their virtual desktops. Outside of that, you’ll need appropriate licenses and a supported OS (most recent OSs will work, including macOS). 

Along with assessing your requirements, you’ll need to design your VDI architecture. Your choices here determine whether you and your employees can personalize your desktops, your storage capacity, and your virtual desktops’ performance. Below are some questions to ask yourself that will help in your design:

  • Do you need a persistent or non-persistent VDI environment? 

  • What are your security requirements? 

  • How much storage do you need? 

  • How much bandwidth?

  • Do you have compliance or regulatory obligations? 

  • What will your backup and disaster recovery plan look like? 

The purpose of these questions is to provide you as clear of an idea as possible about your needs, objectives, and reasons for implementing a virtual desktop infrastructure. Once you know your desired end result, realizing it will be much easier. 

Next, you’ll need to deploy the VDI environment. At Leverage IT, we evaluate whether a proof of concept, or pilot project, would be appropriate. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. While there are many factors to consider in this choice, it ultimately depends on your ideal VDI design. 

Throughout implementation, change management and staff training are critical. Tell your staff about the technology transition well in advance. This will mentally prepare them for a change and prevent them from feeling caught off guard. As part of the training, your staff will need to be educated on how to effectively access and use their virtual desktops. Ongoing support after implementation is also recommended, which can come in the form of a dedicated help desk or regular employee follow-ups to assess their experiences with their virtual desktops. 

2 Solutions to Consider

One of the main reasons to implement a virtual desktop infrastructure is to enable your staff to work from anywhere. Below are two solutions that offer just that benefit. Note, these aren’t the only options. While it is possible to build your own on-premise VDI environment, we don’t recommend doing so unless you’re an enterprise business with its own data center. It just wouldn’t make financial sense. However, the two solutions below are both simpler and cost-effective for most businesses and require little to no infrastructure.

Option 1: Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop

With Azure Virtual Desktop, Microsoft’s centralized servers host your VDI environment. Microsoft handles the load balancing, connection broker, servers, and other technical aspects; you manage the virtual machines and desktops. What’s more, you only pay for what you use. Azure’s autoscale feature enables you to increase or decrease capacity as demand changes, including on specific days or times when demand may be higher. This helps manage costs. 

Another benefit of Azure Virtual Desktop is the built-in security and compliance. By using the service, you leverage the talents of 3,500 security experts who collaborate to protect your Azure data and business assets, as well as the $1 billion annually Microsoft invests in cybersecurity. Azure’s state-of-the-art security has protections against DDoS attacks, integrated security controls, and supports multiple layers of defense. In terms of industry regulations, Azure Virtual Desktop compliance certifications include HIPAA, FedRAMP High for Commercial, PCI, and more. Lastly, if one of your staff member’s BYOD device is ever compromised or stolen, your business data will be safe as it lives on Microsoft’s centralized servers—not your employee’s endpoint device. 

While it may sound easy to implement Azure Virtual Desktop, there are still many things to consider before getting started. These include, though are not limited to, your: 

  • Number of users

  • Applications 

  • Identity provider 

  • Network connectivity

  • Storage requirements

  • Bandwidth needs

  • RAM and core requirements

  • Persistent or non-persistent VDI selection

Switching to Azure Virtual Desktop comes with many advantages. The ability for you and your staff to access your desktops anywhere, the simplified management and maintenance, and scalability are some of the notable perks. But you also have to consider costs, which can vary greatly depending on your needs, and the implementation process. As with any technology migration, you should expect the occasional setback and plan for them accordingly. If you’d like assistance with your migration, Leverage IT can help. Contact us here

Option 2: Cloud Migration

If switching to Azure Virtual Desktop sounds like too drastic of a change, then consider an alternative option—cloud computing. You’re probably somewhat familiar with the technology, which includes popular solutions like Microsoft 365 and Google Drive. Regardless of the option you choose, cloud computing provides many of the benefits Azure VDI offers.

The benefits of cloud computing include: 

Freedom to work anywhere: You read that correctly. Just like a virtual desktop infrastructure, cloud computing enables you and your staff to work from anywhere. All you have to do is login to your Microsoft 365 account. However, you won’t be able to access your desktop, like in a VDI solution. Instead, you access your files and business data via M365. 

Security: When you use M365, you still reap the benefits of Microsoft’s renowned security (described earlier) because Microsoft manages the security of your cloud solution. However, you’ll still need to secure your staff’s PCs or any on-premise infrastructure you may have. 

Scalability: Cloud solutions are easy to scale. If you’re onboarding a new employee, you can simply add a new user to your Microsoft 365 account, and he or she will be ready to work in no time. However, unless you’re comfortable with the potential security risks of BYOD, you’ll still need to provide your new employee a PC. 

Reduced infrastructure costs: A major benefit of cloud computing is you eliminate the need for physical servers or a data center (Microsoft provides and manages those for you), which enables you to greatly reduce infrastructure costs. You’ll no longer need to purchase new servers, manage them, and pay for their overhead expenses. 

While the above benefits may sound great, you may feel hesitant about eliminating your servers due to custom applications integrated with them, complex legacy systems you rely on, or strict compliance or regulatory requirements you must follow. 

In these instances, a hybrid solution may be worth considering. What does that look like? Basically, you keep the servers you need but utilize a cloud environment for the file management capabilities. With a hybrid solution like this, you still take advantage of the cloud’s scalability, flexibility for your staff to work from anywhere, and potential cost-savings if you’re able to eliminate some servers. 

You Have Options: Get Help Transitioning to a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or the Cloud

decision to make. Should you move forward with VDI? If you need help or have more questions, feel free to contact us. 

As mentioned above, this choice is not an all or nothing decision. You have options. Azure Virtual Desktop, the cloud, and a hybrid cloud solution all enable your team to work from anywhere while modernizing your IT environment. If you’d like to learn more, check out Leverage IT’s CloudScale – Cloud IT Solutions. With this service, we can help you choose the best cloud option for your business and manage your new IT environment for better agility, productivity, and security. 

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