What Is VDI and How Does It Work?

October 1, 2019

What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) involves running end-user desktops on Virtual Machines (VMs) that may be hosted in the cloud or on dedicated bare metal servers.

In such an environment, each user is allocated a dedicated virtual machine that runs a separate operating system. VDI provides an isolated environment for each employee and offers the same user experience as a traditional physical desktop.

Users can log into their VMs on any device and anywhere through a secure network. A VDI hosted environment provides an end-user experience through a virtualized backend that hosts VMs. One of the virtualization tools is VMware vCloud, which emphasizes scalability and rapid deployment.

While not perfect for every business use case, the right VDI deployments offer optimal performance at a fraction of the price of a fleet of equally powerful physical desktops.

what is virtual desktop infrastructure

Steps For a Successful VDI Implementation

As with every setup, storage, network, and servers are the most critical components of a successful VDI implementation. Even though it may sound simple enough, there is much to get wrong.

When you have several hundred virtual desktops connected to a single server, the stress of a typical Monday morning, when each desktop may be booting up at the same time, might be too much for a poorly implemented, underperforming VDI project.

On-premise VDI solutions need to be carefully calculated and managed to avoid bottlenecks. However, due to the flexible nature of cloud environments, a hosted VDI implementation is far more scalable. Even so, it is crucial to use SSD accelerated storage, spread the workload, and throttle users whose workload may affect the performance of other virtual desktops.

Cost Considerations and Challenges

If you are considering VDI for your organization, but cost continues to be a challenge, hosted VDI is an excellent solution. At the very beginning of VDI, a single virtual unit was up to four times as expensive as a similarly capable physical desktop.

At the time, many experts deemed virtual desktop infrastructure as a failure. However, the cost of deploying it has kept dropping while performance capabilities rose.

All this is partly thanks to utilizing cloud technologies in an attempt to deliver cost-effective, high-performance VDI. For example, (VPDC) is provided to you with no up-front expenses for hardware or software. You only pay for what you need and use. With contracts as short as six months, you can provision what fits your short-term plans and later add more resources if necessary.

With VDI, it is all about the long-term savings. According to Gartner, a single physical desktop can cost as much as $2,500 annually. That estimate includes the time it takes to perform monthly patching, update anti-virus software and apps, not to mention sending IT staff to each user’s desk.

On the other hand, virtual desktops can all be maintained as a single device.

The widespread introduction of thin clients has further reduced the costs, as these specialized PC devices are cheap and made with VDI in mind. Clients tend to use less power, be less vulnerable to malware attacks, and have longer life cycles. Since they often do not have any moving parts, and since software updates occur at the server end, there is no worry that the device will become incompatible over time.

If a device fails, the machine can be replaced in a matter of minutes, rather than hours.

Performance is Not an Issue with Hosted VDI Deployment

Last year, Intel launched its new Intel® Xeon® E3-1500 v5 processor featuring Iris Pro P580, a powerful on-chip GPU. Paired with an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model, it was a match made in heaven for a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure implementation.

There is no reason to break the bank for an on-premise solution when you can opt for a pay-as-you-go implementation that brings accessible fully capable virtual desktops.

Medical professionals, engineers, and content creators alike can run graphically intense software. Be it video rendering or working in 3D CAD software, VDI software supports all types of applications.

If you take into consideration that you need a top end device for this line of work and that you need to update your hardware every two years or so, a virtual desktop setup can bring massive savings to your organization. On top of that, with up to 99.999% uptime, cloud services provide great reliability and performance, all in one package.

Security of VDI Architecture

VDI is particularly useful when businesses have to deal with critical and confidential data. The fact that end-users can only access a virtualized application entrusts admins that the virtual desktop environment will stay safe even if an individual user’s experience is compromised.

When talking about physical theft, VDI is the safest implementation option for a business environment. For example, if an employee’s business laptop gets stolen, you can rest assured that no confidential data has been exposed. The storage unit on the machine will have no relevant business data as all critical information is safely stored back in the data center.

security in virtual desktop infrastructure

By utilizing a virtualized environment for your VDI implementation, you get peace of mind knowing that users are accessing the platform through a secure encrypted tunnel. Citrix XenApp or Microsoft RDSH VDI deployments provide an extra security layer by giving end-users access to the user interface only. It does not grant non-authorized users access to the management console itself. Every action is tracked through a management interface, which is perfect for PCI and HIPAA compliance requirements.

We can safely say that hosting VDI on cloud infrastructure is a distinct cost-effective and secure deployment method. It offers numerous advantages to businesses with this type of needs.

Centralized Security Approach

All users, but admins especially, need to stay vigilant as new ransomware types are on the rise. Do not forget to consider this – all business data is much safer in a data center. As an inherently secure architecture, the data center protects critical workloads. It makes them safer than if they were sitting partially or barely secured on a physical desktop.

As Adam Stern from Infinitely Virtual puts it in our cloud security threats roundup, “security is a process, not an event.” What he means by this is that we must not just perform a test, tick the right check-boxes, and move on. We need to make it a continual effort to secure each entry point and device. With a centralized VDI environment, it is much easier to set up and maintain your business data.

Centralized data is easier to manage, as you have only one entry point. That makes patch management much easier, as you do not have to worry about a multitude of devices in every office. It also simplifies project management and user profile management, which are essential for maintaining high data security levels.

Your IT department will enjoy full control over centrally managed Microsoft apps and virtual desktops, enabling them to preconfigure security policies based on user roles.

With a centrally managed system, a disaster recovery plan must be taken into consideration. Centralized data should be replicated offsite for a higher level of safety.

Accessibility: VDI Best Practices

One of the key advantages of VDI is accessibility. Organization members can access the end-user interface via any device, be it an underperforming business laptop, desktop, thin client, micro PC, Android or Apple OS device. You can even run it on Raspberry Pi. Users get global access to any virtual app from any device, without the need for a VPN connection or cross-device synchronization.

thin clientsThe application will appear to be running locally. In reality, however, data is safely stored in the data center where your admins can set up firewalls and manage the application package. The end-users will never notice any difference. VDI can run on thin clients and deliver the IT horsepower necessary to run your day-to-day business operations.

In addition to this, cost reduction opportunities are obvious. If you are running a global enterprise with team members and contractors scattered all over the world, virtual desktops are your best option. The alternative – an IT department that would have to provision PCs and manage updates and security threats worldwide.

Collaboration for VDI Environments

The cloud is perfect for collaboration; we all know that. VDI can take it to another level as there is much room to mix and match. For example, the ten largest healthcare systems in the U.S., employing around 3 million caregivers, use virtualization to access electronic medical record (EMR) systems every day.

The IT and security requirements in healthcare are unique. Caregivers need access to medical files anywhere and on any device, as there is a need to provide medical attention ever closer to the patient – in their home or place of work. On the other hand, ensuring data privacy and being HIPAA and PCI-DSS compliant is a must.

That is where server virtualization comes into play. Apps and data are hosted in a data center, ensuring all security requirements are met, while caregivers are presented with an end-user interface through a secure network. Here, they can easily access medical files and focus on their work. This facilitates a more mobile approach to delivering healthcare services and saves numerous lives as medical professionals can act quickly in case of an emergency.

Note: Learn how virtualization works hand-in-hand with DevOps in our article DevOps and Virtualization: The Effect of VMs on Software Development.

Conclusion: Benefits of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure benefits your security, continuity, and accessibility needs. Your IT department will appreciate the level of security and central management. Your employees will love the ease of access, anywhere and on any device. As opposed to the on-premise solutions of the past, a hosted solution is cheaper and does not come with any upfront fees, while the hardware behind it can support even graphically intensive workloads.

Everything is going to the cloud, and workstations will not be any different.

Dejan Tucakov
Dejan is the Head of Content at phoenixNAP with over 7 years of experience in Web publishing and technical writing. Prior to joining PNAP, he was Chief Editor of several websites striving to advocate for emerging technologies. He is dedicated to simplifying complex notions and providing meaningful insight into data center and cloud technology.
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