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What Are Virtual Desktops?

what are virtual desktops
September 13, 2021 / Neill Reidy

Just like anything defined as “virtual” today, virtual desktops are a reflection of operating systems and applications that are physically housed elsewhere. They are publicly or privately powered preconfigured windows images that are accessed remotely over a network. While any device including smartphone, laptop, or tablet can access a virtual desktop, it remains fully managed by the hosting provider. 

The Motivation for the Market 

Remote work arrangements have been on the rise for years, receiving a turbo boost in 2020 during the global coronavirus pandemic. As a result, IT departments around the globe have struggled with how to maintain control, governance, and security in a largely remote environment as well as achieve business continuity. 

According to Gartner, desktop as a service (DaaS) market revenue grew by 98% in 2020 when compared with the previous year and is expected to increase by another 68% this calendar year.  

The market has since segmented itself into three groups: client-defined, vendor-defined, and managed DaaS. Here is a snapshot of each: 

  • Client-defined DaaS. This initial segment, which sits at one end of the spectrum, requires the client to essentially create a DaaS solution from vendor-provided components. They choose and configure profile management technology and storage options as well as configure and manage the virtual devices themselves. The vendor is only responsible for operating and updating these items for the contract period. 
  • Vendor-defined DaaS. This second segment offers more of a middle ground, leaving most of the solution in the hands of the vendor, who defines and configures the majority of the system. The client’s responsibility is focused on configuring the virtual machines used by remote employees or others.  
  • Managed DaaS. At the final end of the spectrum, a vendor can provide a fully managed DaaS, which includes responsibility for both the configuration and management of both the infrastructure side and the virtual desktop image side. This may include patching and updating as well as providing technical support as needed. 

Virtual Desktop Delivery Styles 

The term “virtual desktops” refers to several different types of delivery outcomes: personal or pooled.   

The first, personal desktops, refers to a situation where a single user is assigned to a single virtual machine. This allows users to personalize desktops and access the same view every time they use the system, and how the new windows 365 cloud pc is delivered. Costs are typically higher in this 1:1 style of delivery.  

Pooled virtual desktops, on the other hand, mean the users are all sharing a piece of a larger desktop system.  Sometimes this is a windows server OS, when hosted in azure this is typically Windows 10 multi-session, exclusively available on azure.  Pooled delivery is usually more cost-effective as it’s deployed in a many-to-one scenario allowing for oversubscription. However, profile management tools can still provide users with a personal experience. 

Although what users see and access on their devices remains the same as what they may see on a regular computer, a virtual desktop works differently behind the scenes. The operating system, applications, and user data are stored on a secure network instead of on the individual computing device itself, allowing users to log in from anywhere. Computing devices may include desktop home computers, laptops, tablets, or smartphones. 

Advantages of Virtual Desktops 

While a virtual desktop may look and feel just like a regular computer, it offers many advantages to both the user and the business.   

  • Governance and Security: One of the main reasons a company moves to virtual desktops is to improve central governance and security, especially amidst a remote workforce. With virtual stations, the actual company data is stored centrally and not on individual computers. This minimizes entry points for breaches and vulnerabilities to both public or private powered systems. 
  • User Experience: Since operating systems, applications, storage, and company-specific resources such as databases and customer information are stored centrally, they can be much easier and faster to access. Virtual desktops can also be optimized for real-time audio-video (RTAV), allowing for a better conferencing experience. 
  • Scalable for Changing Workforce: Businesses that may employ temporary or seasonal workers can quickly and easily scale their equipment up or down as needed. Virtual desktops are simple to assign and decommission as needed, by essentially changing individual user login information. 
  • Cost and Maintenance: Since virtual desktops essentially mirror a centrally located system, thin clients can be used, which are less expensive and easier to maintain. Even if many virtual desktops are assigned to a wide geographic area, they can easily be managed by a central IT department. 
  • Easy management: An IT department can easily manage a large number of far-flung virtual desktops from a central location. Software updates and patches are faster and easier because they can be done all at once instead of machine by machine. 

Disadvantages of Virtual Desktops 

Although the benefits of virtual desktops are many, it’s important to acknowledge typical disadvantages as well. 

  • Potential Access Issues. If a business runs out of centralized data storage, remote employees may not be able to access their desktops or any of the business systems they require. 
  • Expense of Storage. The investment required for large storage environments that can handle the needs of multiple virtual desktops can be significant. 
  • Poor Network Connectivity. Just like a sub-optimal bandwidth or internet connection slows down the user experience on the consumer side, poor network connectivity can slow down work as well as access to needed information on the business side. In addition, without a network connection, employees often cannot access data at all. 

It’s easy to see why virtual desktops are growing in popularity. IT departments can simply not effectively manage individual and often personal standalone computers in an increasingly remote work environment. Virtual desktops provide a way to maintain governance and security centrally while still providing access to needed systems and data to remote employees. 

This combination will help businesses continue to tap the best talent for their needs, regardless of location, as well as easily scale up and down their employee population, providing an opportunity for cost savings, revenue generation, and ultimately growth and success. Contact us today for a free consultation. 

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