Desktop

Why Virtual Desktops Are Critical in the New Normal

With the world fully entrenched in work-from-home culture, virtual desktop technology quickly became more important than ever before. By allowing remote workforces to operate as seamlessly as they would from within the office, virtual desktops have kept workflows moving and businesses running through these unprecedented times.

As organizations begin to reopen and bring their remote workforce back to the office, virtual desktop technologies will continue to play a crucial role within the new normal. Today’s tools from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware make it easier than ever for firms to enhance their usage of, or fully migrate to, virtual desktop operations.

Historical Barriers

In the past, virtual desktop environments were limited by their hardware, licensing and management requirements. These constraints restricted how quickly or cost-effectively they could be implemented. Solutions from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware handled much of the connectivity, but they required significant knowledge and investment in infrastructure, and proper deployments could take days or weeks to deal with security and accessibility requirements. Further, for every use case, distinct configurations would need to be deployed.

For example, if you wanted some users to have access to certain apps, others to have different apps and still others to have greater permissions and more advanced tools, you might need to develop complicated deployment scripts to customize user sessions or maintain separate remote desktop images for each group. As one application required updates or changes, you would have to deploy those adjustments to each of those three desktops: you would need to make the update three times, test it three times and deploy it three times.

The capital and time expenditures were significant, and in many cases outweighed the benefits of desktop virtualization. This was especially true for organizations that were interested in providing users with remote connectivity but not planning to support the organization through a business continuity event. Today’s products have addressed a number of these challenges. They now allow organizations to implement streamlined and scalable virtual desktop environments without paying for, or deploying, solutions that will sit idle waiting for the chance that a business continuity event will occur, while also supporting normal usage at reasonable price points.

Advances in Virtual Desktop Technology

The development of cloud-based virtual desktop technologies has helped meet the recent increase in demand for remote work. Organizations that were already leveraging cloud-based solutions could scale up quickly; organizations that were nimble enough to migrate their desktops to the cloud could take advantage of the scale and deployment automation. Both Citrix and VMware now offer cloud-based solutions that leverage Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, while Microsoft now offers a cloud-native service called Windows Virtual Desktop. With these solutions, organizations can stand up fully virtualized cloud-based desktops in a fraction of the time and cost needed in the past.

Additionally, application layering technologies have significantly matured. Rather than updating, testing and deploying application changes multiple times for different desktop images, layering allows organizations to manage as few as one desktop image for all users.

In the instance where some users need access to different applications, firms can still create a single remote desktop image and simply deploy different applications that get assigned based on user group membership. This layering approach enables independent assignment, patching and updating of unique components within a virtual desktop machine. Therefore, the firm can still manage just one desktop image and perform updates and testing once while addressing individual applications as needed. These layering technologies are now readily available as a free add-on for Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop and as part of different licensing structures from Citrix and VMware.

Choosing a Virtual Desktop Solution

Switching to a virtual desktop environment can now happen relatively quickly. The question then becomes which virtual desktop solution is best for your organization? Citrix, VMware and Microsoft Virtual Desktop all offer unique benefits that may make them the right option in specific circumstances.

If you’re currently operating completely on-premises using a single solution, it might make the most sense to firm up your commitment to that solution and invest in expanding it. If you’re starting from scratch and moving to the cloud, leveraging the capabilities of new tools might be a better approach.

VMware is a logical solution for large-enterprise organizations that want to maintain much of their chosen solution in-house. For small and medium-size firms, however, VMware might be more expensive than necessary and provide more functionality than required. VMware offers layering through its Mirage tool, available as a stand-alone upgrade or as part of VMware Horizon Advanced and Enterprise.

Citrix has been a leader, and pioneer, in the remote and virtual desktop world. As such, many already incorporate its technologies and trust its expertise to eliminate the growing pains possibly seen with newer technologies. Citrix App Layering is included with most current license plans from Citrix.

Having been around longer, VMware and Citrix offer a maturity that appeals to some firms. Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, in contrast, is a relatively new offering that has not been without its hiccups. Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore the benefits it offers, particularly regarding price and ease of use. All things being equal, most firms want a virtual desktop solution that is quick, easy and inexpensive to implement – Windows Virtual Desktop will often fit the bill.

Windows Virtual Desktop offers two features that reduce cost and increase efficiency. First, app layering is included in the license price, not as a costly add-on. Second, Microsoft offers FX Logic as a free add-on to Windows Virtual Desktop, which improves user profile management and speeds up the users’ ability to always access the exact desktop experience necessary to seamlessly do their jobs.

These features are part of the user license price, which is included in the Microsoft 365 and Windows 365 subscriptions. Otherwise, firms only pay compute and storage costs. This means that you can provide a full virtual desktop environment and experience with limited additional expense.

The Role of Virtual Desktops in the New Normal

As offices reopen, firms will still support enhanced remote and portable workers. Many employees will continue to work from home, and many in-office employees may be assigned new, or variable, workspaces to support social distancing protocols. While cloud environments simplify the process, secure and robust deployments still require skilled and experienced implementers. Engineers who regularly set up virtual desktop environments can leverage existing configurations and implement required customizations to produce fully functional virtual environments in a fraction of the time needed in the past. For simple desktop environments this may be as quick as a matter of hours.

Virtual desktop environments are the best way to provide the same work experience for users regardless of location. Laptops and VPNs fall short because they depend on specific devices. If a device fails when you’re on a virtual desktop, you can switch to another device and have the same experience, accessing the data you need in the ways you’re used to accessing it.

There’s no way to predict how work-from-home scenarios will change in the coming months, but one thing is certain – remote work is here to stay. Virtual desktops solve the challenges of remote working, and implementing the right virtual desktop tools now will position your firm for whatever shape the new normal takes.

About Eli Nussbaum

Eli Nussbaum
Eli Nussbaum is a managing director at Keno Kozie Associates. He joined the firm in 1998 as part of its Y2K audit team. Eli then became a full-time engineer and has held every position within the department. During his tenure with Keno Kozie, he has focused on physical, virtual and cloud infrastructure design and implementation for both client and desktop environments.

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