The last few years have seen a significant change in how many users interact with their IT systems. While once they would be solely restricted to a fixed desktop machine, now even the smallest companies bring in multiple laptops, smartphones and tablets for their users, so a single employee may interact with many devices over the course of their day.
For large enterprises, this can quickly become a severe management headache. With hundreds or even thousands of employees all using multiple devices thanks to policies such as BYOD, keeping track of who is accessing what services from where can quickly become impossible. Meanwhile, the costs associated with managing so many devices can quickly add up. Therefore, solutions to bring this back under control are a must.
Why virtualize your operations?
Virtualization is often seen as the answer to many of these challenges. In a more fluid, mobile-focused world, conducting operations using virtual desktop machines can offer a much more streamlined, efficient way of working.
Because the operating system is separated from the client device used to access it, this allows individuals within the business to access critical data and applications from wherever they are, on whatever device they have access to at the time.
It's especially useful for firms that operate at multiple locations, as it removes the need to deploy desktop infrastructure at every office. Virtual infrastructure not only enables your employees to be more productive, but it reduces the cost of hardware and allows firms to be more flexible in how they operate.
VDI: what are the benefits?
The most familiar form of virtualization for many businesses will be virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI. This technology has been around for many years and is often viewed as synonymous with virtualization as a whole, as it has long been the only practical solution available to businesses.
VDI offers organizations a number of advantages. As the servers used for the solutions are managed centrally by the business in its own data center, IT teams have complete control over their virtual environment. Hardware, software, licensing and deployment are all managed internally, and as the entire system runs within the firm's network, issues such as latency are minimal.
On the other hand, VDIs can be complex and costly to set up and manage, and require a hands-on approach with dedicated IT staff to handle any maintenance and contingencies in the event of an issue.
However, VDIs are no longer the only option for virtualization. An increasingly-popular option is now cloud-based Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) technology. As the name suggests, this takes the management of the virtual environment out of the hands of the IT department and uses hosted cloud computing technology to deliver services to users.
Compared with VDI, it allows IT teams to leave the development and deployment of the virtual network up to the provider, which is particularly useful for companies where resources are stretched. DaaS also promises easier scalability than VDI, as it’s typically procured on a subscription basis with the company paying for a specified number of seats. Therefore, it can be easily added to as the business grows, or scaled back if needed, so the enterprise isn’t spending any more than absolutely necessary on these services.
The trade-off for this convenience and ease-of-use is that firms may have less control over the finer details of the services, while it’s also dependent on a strong internet connection, which may make it a riskier proposition if businesses intend to use it for mission-critical activities or those that depend on real-time data and actions.
Making the right decision: 5 key areas to consider
Both VDI and DaaS promise higher productivity, greater mobility and cost savings over traditional desktop environments. But they each have their own pros and cons, so it's important to look carefully at all the options when deciding which is right for you. Here are a few factors you need to keep in mind.
The ease of management is one of the major advantages of DaaS over VDI. With a hosted cloud solution, all the necessary infrastructure is handled by the provider, leaving IT teams free to focus on the applications themselves.
VDI, however, is significantly more complex and demands a great deal of time and expertise within the IT department. Solutions for hardware maintenance, load balancing, backups and disaster recovery and updates must be taken care of in-house, all of which takes time and costs money.
When it comes to cost, DaaS is generally considered the cheaper option, at least in the short term. VDI will require a significant upfront investment in the hardware and infrastructure needed to get up and running, not to mention the ongoing management and maintenance expenses. DaaS, on the other hand, is an ongoing operational expense that will be more predictable and easy to factor into financial planning.
That said, you shouldn't automatically assume DaaS will always work out cheaper. Subscription costs can quickly add up for large businesses, especially for firms with more complex requirements. Therefore, it's important to understand exactly what you'll need and how this compares to headline pricing for entry-level services.
How the systems perform should be a top consideration as this will greatly impact the user experience, and factors within this include:
As a VDI will be based within the network for most users, IT teams should be able to ensure fast, low-latency performance. While external internet connectivity may be required for remote workers, those within the perimeter will still be able to work without disruption on the local network, even if internet outages occur.
With DaaS, fast internet is a must however, and if this goes down or struggles to maintain speeds for a large number of connections, this will frustrate performance. Therefore, if businesses are going down the DaaS route, they must also consider the need to upgrade their connectivity to support this.
Both VDI and DaaS promise improved security for mobile users, as employees won’t be carrying sensitive data directly on their devices. This could be particularly valuable for highly-regulated industries such as healthcare, as users can access confidential information such as medical records without having to download them directly.
However, while VDI keeps sensitive data under the complete control of the company, DaaS will raise the usual cloud security concerns. Therefore, firms will need clarification on where data is stored and what protections are in place to meet regulatory requirements.
This doesn’t necessarily mean DaaS will be less secure than VDI. Depending on the company’s capabilities and resources, DaaS providers may be able to provide a level of security beyond what can be achieved in-house, while if data is being stored in the cloud anyway, it may make more sense to use DaaS.
5. Customization and control
The level of control over your virtual environment should also be a key consideration. Generally, VDIs will offer a much higher level of customization, as IT teams will have full freedom to develop a solution to meet the exact needs of their organization.
DaaS services, on the other hand, may offer more limited customization and control options, and have restrictions on what applications can be used. This may be a disadvantage if businesses need to run highly specialized, bespoke services, but for other organizations who will only use a small number of standard features, it need not be much of a compromise. Therefore, a firm understanding of exactly what applications will use the virtual infrastructure is vital when making a decision.
The best choice for your business
Ultimately, the decision whether to use VDI or DaaS will depend on a number of factors, and what works well for one firm may not be suitable for another. In general, however, VDI's will often be the preferred option for larger enterprises that can afford to devote significant time and resources to managing these solutions in-house. It may be a more expensive investment, but the freedom and control it gives to firms could be invaluable.
DaaS, meanwhile, is often seen as the more economical choice for smaller firms and those with more straightforward requirements. In these cases, the lower upfront costs and easier management of DaaS services may outweigh the fact they’ll have less granular control over their environment.