The actual meaning of the term VDI (Virtualized Desktop Infrastructure) has evolved somewhat since VMWare (a leading virtualization provider) coined the term years ago. So too have the reasons for implementing VDI in an organization, as have the types of devices used to access virtualized desktops and applications.
VDI is no longer just about delivering a desktop to users sitting in front of thin clients or zero clients. VDI is about getting users what they need to efficiently do their jobs wherever they might be. Although the cloud (think Google Apps, DropBox for Teams, SugarCRM, etc.) and mobile technologies have, to some extent, obviated the need for remote access software that lets users actually view and control a desktop PC in their office or cubicle from the web or particular client software, there are still many times when secure, remote access to corporate resources and applications is a must.
Perhaps more interestingly in 2013, when we will continue to see growth and maturation in BYOD, VDI provides an important means for delivering any on-premise application securely to any device. If sales staff, for example, needs to access a CRM system while they’re on the road via their personal iPads, then VDI can do that. If a programmer prefers Ubuntu but needs to use Microsoft Office for high-fidelity compatibility with his colleagues, VDI can make that happen. In both cases, the applications themselves are virtualized and run on a central server; only the video output is streamed to the device of choice, making the device’s underlying OS irrelevant.
At the same time, IT groups can leverage VDI to escape the software license/install/patch/upgrade cycle that absorbs so much time and labor in many organizations. That same version of Microsoft Office that gets virtualized and streamed to the Linux user can be streamed to Windows users in the same way. The benefit is not just software compatibility. Instead, it’s utterly simple central management of licenses. The ability to install, configure, and manage software centrally means that countless machines can automatically access the latest version of a company’s software by simply using virtualized instead of local versions of it.
Many organizations hesitate to allow BYOD because of security concerns, as well as the need to ensure software and hardware compatibility. However, every OS (both desktop and mobile) can access some sort of client application that connects them to virtualized applications or even full virtual desktops. The latter is not generally recommended as it can erase some of the productivity benefits associated with BYOD, but in some cases, security requirements may dictate full desktop VDI. In both scenarios, security is far less of a concern as important data need not be stored on personal devices.
Again, no matter what the case, organizations have a golden opportunity to achieve several very positive IT outcomes:
- Centralize configuration, management, software installations, etc., reducing the inherent inefficiencies of traditional desktop deployments.
- Allow software updates to become available to users in near real time.
- Reduce licensing costs and centralize license management.
- Let users, whatever their chosen device or devices, access standard, legacy, proprietary, and other non-cloud-based data and applications securely and easily.
- Turn phones, tablets, PCs, etc., into thin clients, easing the transition to cloud-based applications and storage that can be accessed natively from a browser or app.