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The Case for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is the practice of hosting a desktop operating system within a virtual machine running on a centralized server. VDI is a variation on the client/server computing model also referred to as server-based computing.  Remember thin clients?  VDI can also be implemented through a web browser, so it’s completely device agnostic, or implemented through an application-based model.

This server-side computing concept is simple. Instead of giving users a PC running a copy of an OS, you “virtualize” the desktops by running them on a server in a datacenter. In its basic form, the user connects to the virtualized desktop via a thin-client computing protocol from their client device, accessing their desktop as if it were a traditional locally installed desktop.

We’re in a new era of business computing and agencies are responding to the new way that people work, how they buy and operate their IT infrastructure. VDI is, therefore, becoming as ubiquitous as desktops and laptops, with agencies viewing it as a top priority for efficient computing and a more secure approach for mobility – access anytime, anywhere– and telework.

By the end of 2014, GSA expects half of their employees to use a virtual desktop interface (VDI) as a path to using their personal smartphones and tablets on the network. According to Sonny Hashmi, GSA’s acting chief information officer, employees will connect to the guest wireless network, go through a two- factor authentication verification process and then get connected to the VDI. “Once you are there, it’s all sandboxed away and you can access the whole suite of thick client, thin client, legacy and non-legacy applications and you will be fully productive,” he said, speaking on Federal News Radio in April.

Depending on the implementation, VDI may be easier to manage than the traditional infrastructure because thousands of desktops can run off a single central image. This also means security is improved because only one image needs to be secured, and since no data is transferred to the personal device, the information remains secure in the data center. In addition, maintenance is easier because all patching and upgrades occur once, rather than having to push to every desktop.

VDI can also be a way to reduce cost. For example, instead of migrating from Windows XP, which is nearing end of life, to Windows 7, moving users to VDI means moving them virtually, without having to go out and change machines. Virtual desktop licensing arrangements need to be understood – Virtual Desktop Access, Software Assurance, etc – but if you host your infrastructure you can shift that concern to your vendor.