Desktops in the Cloud

There has been a lot of talk about the virtualization of desktop’s in the last 12-18 months. More specifically corporate America has moved more to a best practices approach of centralizing desktops on a series of virtual machines so the end user can access their “corporate desktop” computer utilizing an older PC, home PC, or mobile device such as an Apple iPad. There are however limitations to desktop virtualization where the Cloud becomes a better more viable option for businesses of all sizes. By leveraging the Cloud, organizations don’t have to invest in physical infrastructure to host virtual machines, and the cost of management and maintenance can be reduced significantly.

Let’s dive into some use cases where leveraging the cloud for the virtual corporate desktops make sense:

Mergers and Acquisitions

Larger companies that purchase other organizations may be slow to roll out a PC with the standard corporate image installed.  Leveraging the Cloud can address this challenge easily and cost effectively. Organizations can quickly deploy virtual machines hosted in the Cloud for as many users as needed within minutes. Secure connectivity back to the corporate network can be provided using the client’s desktop VPN.

Disaster Recovery

Not all organizations arm their employees with laptop computers. For those that still rely on traditional desktop computing, having a standard corporate image stored and accessible in the Cloud can be a great solution when you need to be productive and nimble in the midst of a disaster scenario. When employees cannot make it to the office, a virtual corporate PC based on a standard image can be provided instantly. VPN access from the Cloud will allow those users to authenticate with their corporate domain and access other critical resources.

Mobile Device Accessibility

iPad and other mobile devices still need to access legacy applications that can’t be accessed natively with these new cutting edge platforms. Accessing those resources via a corporate image running in the Cloud is an ideal solution for this.  In fact, running virtual PC’s in the Cloud could be seen as a bridge solution until critical corporate applications become web-based and/or accessible from mobile devices natively.

While the Cloud presents many advantages there are a few challenges that should to be addressed for running virtual desktops in the Cloud for your organization. Lets review.

Is the Cloud Secure?

One of the primary objections to using the Cloud for any use case is the safeguard of corporate data. As you evaluate the Cloud as a solution for the virtual desktop use case it is critical that you do a full security review of potential cloud providers.  Leveraging your corporate VPN as well as Domain level security and policies can mitigate these risks.

What About Patch and Configuration Management?

This objection to Cloud adoption can be seen as similar to concerns around security. However, it is important enough to be clearly defined. Organizations spend millions of dollars ensuring that their corporate PCs have the latest patches and software applications installed.  When you move the Corporate PC to the Cloud, IT often feels that they will loose control of their corporate policies and procedures. This challenge can be mitigated by leveraging either desktop VPN, or IPSec VPN solutions. If the Cloud-Based PC is connected to the corporate network, IT can patch and manage those virtual machines in the same manner that they manage on-premise systems, providing IT all of the visibility and control they need.

Does the Cloud Have Issues With Latency?

Latency is perhaps the biggest barrier to the adoption of Cloud-Based virtual PCs. Most often, latency will be determined by the physical location of the Cloud provider you are accessing. As a result, it is important to look at a couple of things when evaluating a cloud providers.  First, what remote access methods do they allow? Certain protocols perform better with high latency connections than others. Two protocols that tend to do very well with high latency connections are Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) from Microsoft and High-Definition User Experience (HDX) from Citrix. The second item to consider is the location of your provider. As always, the closer the provider can be to your end users, the better the latency. The challenge is that in today’s world of distributed users, you commonly have a user community that is geographically dispersed.

By leveraging the Cloud for the virtual desktop, organizations of all sizes can reap the benefits of extensibility at a very low cost. It is important that an organization weigh the benefits of cost and extensibility with security, patch and configuration management, and latency.

– Mike Neil, Director of Field Operations / Skytap

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