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VPN vs. VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) – How to Best Weather the Storm

March 5, 2015 / Evolve IP

We here in the Greater Philadelphia area are rounding up to about 6 inches of snow at 4pm, and it’s still snowing steadily. Luckily, as an Evolve IP associate, I’m well-equipped to work from home with my virtual desktop (VDI).  This morning, I discovered that my husband is not so well-equipped, when I heard frustrated grumbling emanating from his office, as I was typing away. I called out and asked him, “What’s wrong?” His response: “Grrrrr! I can’t connect to the stupid VPN.”

Ironically, what I’d just been working diligently on was writing an analysis of a new survey we just completed about “the state of the desktop” – and specifically about the mobility enablement that virtual desktops provide versus the challenges and disadvantages of using a virtual private network (VPN) for mobility enablement.

Our new survey (paper coming soon!) found that 65.5 percent of respondents are still using a VPN to access their network versus 18.5 percent that are using Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), who are able to access their entire desktop image on any device.

We get it – historically VPN it was the solution of choice, so businesses continue using it. But, with VPN, you still only have your local machine, which means you have to download the files and save them locally in order to work on them. Plus, while VPN provides access to files on the corporate network, you still can’t access your work desktop applications locally over the VPN. With a virtualized desktop, secured and managed by your IT team and service provider, you are logging into the actual desktop you use every day at the office, and your documents are all right where they were when you were last working on them, already open and ready to resume.

Without even speaking to the myriad other advantages of DaaS, just from a mobility perspective, you are still lugging a heavy laptop home with you to log onto the network with a VPN. What you don’t get from VPN is the administrative advantages of DaaS, or the platform to run on any operating system or on mobile devices.

With VPN, you will also have to deal with bandwidth issues (just ask my husband.) While a VPN provides you with access to your companies’ network, the experience is dependent on the functionality of your machine and the traffic running through the VPN at the time. Especially if it is being leveraged during bad weather events to allow employees to work from home, when everyone in the organization is snowed in at home and using it at the same time, you will likely encounter issues.

Additionally, there are inherent security risks with VPN. Many executives and business end users have a misconceived notion that the VPN is an encrypted tunnel between their device and the network.  In actuality, when allowing a device to VPN into your corporate network, you expose your network to problems on the home network. If you don’t have local virus protection or firewall, you are endangering the corporate network. Although your communication is encrypted over VPN, the risk is still there to pass along virus or malware, and the more open tunnels there are into your environment, the more paths are opened that now have access to it.

Do you really want to be the employee who passes a virus along to your company?

With a virtual desktop solution, the device you are using never actually touches the desktop – it is simply being accessed via a client or web-browser – so the security risk is mitigated. While many virtual desktop offerings feature built-in antivirus and malware protection for the desktop, those security elements are not necessary on the device. End users access their full desktops via a client or web browser via secure SSL.

A virtual desktop is a more efficient and secure way for companies to keep employees productive outside the four corporate walls. With DaaS or VDI, you can deliver a consistent, productive environment to end-users on any device – including Mac devices – from any location. You will mitigate user-productivity issues, regardless of device and enable users to use their own devices. Most importantly, you will never again have to exclaim “Grrrrr! I can’t connect to the stupid VPN.”

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