Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), a virtualization technology that creates fully personalized, individual desktop virtual machines with user profile control and golden imaging, has experienced newfound growth in recent years. In fact, by 2022, the global VDI market is expected to be worth just shy of $5 billion.

The technology, which has been in existence since 2006, has ebbed and flowed in popularity. On paper, the idea for VDI was simple and brilliant—virtualizing desktops would reduce hardware costs, break the three-year refresh cycle, simplify desktop management and ultimately save businesses lots of time and money. The technology looked straight-forward and even elegant on the surface—particularly if you were the desktop user and had no contact with the back-end infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the backend infrastructure was bulky, complex and expensive. VDI software was typically accompanied by hefty licensing fees and lock-in to vendor hardware that pushed up adoption prices. For these reasons, VDI adoption remained limited for a long time to large enterprises.

However, in the last few years, edge computing and hyperconvergence have disrupted the VDI market and opened deployment opportunities to more businesses. Here is why edge computing and VDI have emerged as a perfect pairing.

A Helping Hand for IT Teams

Hyperconverged edge computing solutions make rolling out a VDI simple and practical even for a lean IT team that looks after hundreds of users. You no longer need specialist skills—a couple of hours of training and induction is usually all that’s required.

Once the virtual desktops have been rolled out, software and anti-virus updates for each user can be remotely managed and maintained, while centralization and automation of other time-consuming day-to-day tasks can help IT teams cope better with emergencies, should they arise.

Some edge computing systems also offer in-built, automated disaster recovery capabilities including replication, snapshot scheduling and file-level recovery that can aid retrieval of lost files from individual virtual desktops. They can also provide self-healing machine intelligence to protect the entire network.

This level of centralization and resilience allows IT teams to create a consistent disaster recovery plan that can run in the background without individual users having to take any action—no more relying on employees to update their own antivirus software or to schedule backups of their own data. For an extra layer of redundancy, full network backups and snapshots of individual desktop profiles can also be sent over the wider network to either a remote datacenter or a cloud repository.

Working in a VDI environment also means that, if a terminal or other network access point fails, the user simply moves to a different machine and logs back in—in most instances, their profile and data are undamaged as both reside on the edge computing unit. Meanwhile, a new replacement machine can be quickly configured without any need to perform time-consuming data recovery. This leads to an IT infrastructure with much higher availability and a minimal amount of downtime. It also makes the IT team look incredibly focused, streamlined and responsive.

One particular advantage of running VDI in an edge environment is that data is stored close to the point of creation and access—thereby reducing dependence on remote centralized servers or distributed local servers. This solves the problem of slow connectivity, latency and bottlenecking that have arisen on legacy deployments that run over a WAN or VPN.

Agility and Security

A VDI deployment running on a hyperconverged edge computing solution brings improved workforce agility at an affordable cost point. Employees can log-on securely to any machine on the network and gain access to their files, emails and applications—they’re not even limited to PC terminals, but can load their personal desktop or applications on their mobile phone or tablet.

Running a VDI deployment in this way also offers a cost-effective and secure method to extend network access beyond the office walls and provide remote access to employees wherever they—providing a safe and secure way for employees to work from home or while traveling. Regardless of location, IT teams can keep a watching brief on user profiles. They can also receive automated alerts that flag potentially suspicious activity or log users out if their account has been inactive for a pre-agreed time.

VDI in an edge environment also deals with the issue of generic sign-ins, which can start to appear across an organization as a quick, short-hand way for employees to access multiple machines. Generic sign-ins pose a potentially huge security problem—whether it’s a case of doctors accessing patient records or retailers dealing with sensitive financial data. In both instances, companies are legally responsible for protecting end-user data. Failure to do so risks reputational damage and even prosecution.

VDI provides the answer by making it quick and easy for employees to log on across multiple machines with their own unique Active Directory credentials—indeed some edge computing solutions for VDI also offer multi-factor authentication to really ramp up security and guard against unauthorized access. This helps businesses remain compliant with consumer data protection laws such as HIPAA, GDPR and PCI.

It also offers a cost-effective way for businesses to manage BYODs—an issue that continues to raise operational and security concerns. Integrating BYODs onto an officially sanctioned VDI environment turns an employee’s own mobile phone, laptop or tablet from potential security risk and uncontrolled access point to a secure, authorized and monitored network device where information is better protected from accidental disclosure and loss. That has to be worth considering as BYOD use is still increasing and studies suggest that companies embracing BYOD can an annual saving of around $350 per year, per employee.

Looking Forward

VDI always had the potential to bring about improved workforce agility and to centralize network management tasks. However, IT analysts and industry commentators stated for some time that VDI adoption has been relatively slow—hampered by high prices, complicated software licensing and weak network connections. It’s only with the advent of hyperconverged edge computing, and the accompanying reductions in cost and complexity, that businesses of all sizes have been able to benefit from the technology.

Additional functionality, improvements to network response times and massive simplification of system management have made it equally easy for end users and IT teams to adopt VDI. The ability to create offsite backups in the cloud or at remote locations has brought an extra dimension of resilience and protection, while automation and centralization capabilities can now take care of some of the most important, but time-consuming, heavy-lifting. No wonder, then, that VDI has spiked in popularity and is expected to continue growing in the coming years.

Originally published on the Scale Computing blog, January 5, 2021, by Alan Conboy.