Telecommuting has been a trend on the rise over the past few decades. According to 2018 survey data from GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, “5 million employees (3.6% of the workforce) work-at-home half-time or more” and “regular work-at-home has grown 173% since 2005.”
While telecommuting has many benefits for both employers and employees, the reality is that certain companies (IT and communications organizations, for example) are well suited to offer work-at-home programs, while others are not (think manufacturing, healthcare, and retail). Then there are organizations that do have the ability to offer a telecommuting option but choose to stick with a traditional corporate culture built around physical in-office presence because they believe the benefits of face-to-face collaboration outweigh those of work-at-home programs.
Historically, requiring employees to be physically present hasn’t been an issue. However, times are changing, and organizations across many industries are now evaluating and instituting work-at-home policies. For companies that didn’t previously have a large remote workforce, the prospect of implementing a widescale work-at-home program may seem daunting and expensive. And it’s easy to understand why. Traditionally, IT departments rolling out these programs purchased and customized laptops for each remote worker, and then dedicated personnel and resources to maintain the health and security of each one.
Fortunately, there is a better option for rolling out widespread telecommuting for high numbers of employees: cloud-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology.
What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure?
At a high level, cloud-based VDI solutions host operating systems, databases, software, and applications in a private or public cloud, such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, rather than on individual computers. Because VDI offers centralized access (vs. downloading data onto individual machines), employees can work from any location on any device that connects to the internet – even if the device is not provided by their company. This means that organizations can quickly and cost-effectively empower their employees to work-at-home, without having to purchase a laptop for each worker and without compromising productivity, performance, or security.
On the latter point: Just as applications and databases are hosted in the cloud with VDI technology, so is security software. This means that even if remote employees are working on their personal devices, IT teams can provide the same levels of protection and control as they would for a company-issued laptop. Additionally, because VDI technology keeps all compute, processing, and storage in the cloud, IT can prevent employees from downloading and saving data onto their personal devices, which can significantly reduce risk.
VDI – Three Options to Consider
For IT decision-makers considering VDI, it’s important to consider which type of deployment model makes the most sense for their organization. VDI comes in three flavors – private cloud-hosted VDI, private cloud DaaS (desktop as a service), and public cloud. The following includes a quick overview of each approach.
The first option IT teams should evaluate is a hosted VDI environment. With this option, organizations purchase and provision all hardware and software to build their own VDI platform to run in a company data center. The downsides to this approach are that hardware and software purchase quantities must be based on peak usage – so companies may end up paying for resources that they aren’t using – and it requires specialized knowledge and ongoing maintenance from the in-house IT team.
With DaaS, a service provider provisions and manages all infrastructure within a hosted data center. The provider helps companies build out desktop images and support end-users while taking on the burden of infrastructure deployment and maintenance. It’s worth noting, though, that scaling with DaaS still requires the physical installation of servers and other infrastructure components.
The third type of VDI technology is public cloud desktops, which has escalated in popularity over the past few years. With this option, desktop infrastructure resides in a hyperscale public cloud, enabling companies to scale up or down based on need without incurring the costs or risks associated with building and managing a VDI solution internally. It can be managed by the company or outsourced to a service provider to design, optimize, deploy, and fully manage it for them. Companies leveraging Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop also benefit from tight integration with Microsoft Office 365. With this option, VDI is easily scalable and manageable – ideal for situations where companies need to quickly provision or de-provision many devices.
To know which option is the right one, IT teams should ask themselves questions such as: Which applications do users need? Do they need basic productivity applications or specialized applications based on job responsibilities? Also, how many groups of users are needed? Think of “groups” in terms of departments or employees that require access to the same applications. Finally, what is the deployment timeline? DaaS and public cloud desktops will likely have faster turnaround times than a hosted VDI. However, a hosted VDI solution offers greater control over the environment, which is an important factor for some organizations.
Changing Dynamics Require Immediate Action
Today, organizations need to be nimbler and more flexible to meet changing world dynamics, and right now, the landscape dictates massive work-at-home measures. VDI technology – regardless of which of the three options a company chooses – enables this workforce shift in a way that empowers both employees and IT. It also provides valuable business benefits that I’m willing to bet will prompt organizations to retain significant work-at-home policies even after the necessity to do so passes.