Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing, discusses why Edge Computing and VDI have emerged as a perfect pairing, and what this could mean for businesses.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) has peaked and troughed in popularity since it came into existence in 2006. But it is a technology reaching new heights of growth in recent years, with predictions stating that the global VDI market will be worth close to US$5 billion by the year 2020.
The concept of VDI was simple and excellent: if we virtualise desktops we can reduce hardware spend, cut the three-year refresh cycle, simplify desktop management and ultimately save businesses time and money.
It all seemed straight-forward and, at a glance, the technology looked elegant – especially for the desktop user that wasn’t exposed to the back-end infrastructure.
On the other hand, for those who were exposed to it, the back-end infrastructure was bulky, complicated and costly. VDI software went hand-in-hand with hefty licensing fees and lock-in to vendor hardware, both of which pushed up adoption prices. Because of this, VDI adoption stayed limited to large enterprises for a long time.
But, in the past few years, Edge Computing and hyperconvergence have disrupted the VDI market. These technologies have made deployment opportunities available to more businesses. So, it seems that Edge Computing and VDI have emerged as a perfect pair, but how?
Simplifying and streamlining
Rolling out VDI is simple and practical when utilising Edge Computing hyperconvergence solutions, even for lean IT teams that look after hundreds of users. There is no longer a requirement for specialist skills when just a couple of hours of training is typically all you need.
Once the virtual desktops have been rolled out, software and anti-virus updates for each user can be remotely managed and maintained. The centralisation and automation of various time-consuming day-to-day tasks help IT teams deal with emergencies better, should they arise.
Some Edge Computing systems also provide in-built, automated disaster recovery capabilities, including replication, snapshot scheduling and file-level recovery that assist in the retrieval of lost files from individual virtual desktops. They can also protect the entire network with self-healing machine intelligence.
This centralisation and resilience means that IT teams can create a consistent disaster recovery plan that runs in the background, without individual users having to take any action. Ultimately, this ensures there is no longer a need to rely on employees to update their own anti-virus software or schedule backups of their own data. For even more redundancy, full network backups and snapshots of individual desktop profiles can also be sent over the wider network to either a remote data centre or a cloud repository.
Working in a VDI environment also allows a user to simply move to a different machine and log back in, in the event of a terminal or other network access point failure and, in most cases, this means their profile and data remain undamaged as both reside on the Edge Computing unit.
Plus, a replacement machine can be quickly configured without any need to perform time-consuming data recovery. This ensures they have an IT infrastructure with much higher availability and reduced risk of downtime, while making the IT team seem focused, responsive and streamlined.
Another advantage of running VDI in an Edge environment is that data can be stored close to the point of creation and access. This reduces dependence on remote centralised servers or distributed local servers and solves the problem of slow connectivity, latency and bottlenecks that have arisen on legacy deployments running over a WAN or VPN.
Agility and security
Running on a hyperconverged Edge Computing solution, the VDI deployment can provide improved workforce agility at an affordable cost. Employees can log-on securely to any machine on the network and gain access to their files, emails and applications – they’re not just limited to PC terminals, but can load their personal desktop or applications on their mobile device 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 are. Plus, the IT team can receive automated alerts that flag potentially suspicious activity or log users out of an account that has been inactive for a pre-agreed time.
Generic sign-ins are often used across organisations as a speedy way for employees to access multiple machines, but they do pose potentially huge security problems. Whether it is doctors accessing patient records or retailers handling sensitive financial data, in both cases, companies are legally responsible for protecting end-user data. Failure to do so risks reputational damage and even prosecution.
VDI, in an Edge environment, is able to deal with these potential issues by making it quick and easy for employees to log in across multiple machines with their own Active Directory credentials.
This technology also offers multi-factor authentication to guard against unauthorised access, ensuring businesses stay compliant with consumer data protection laws such as HIPAA, GDPR and PCI.
BYOD becomes cost effective to manage too and no longer an issue that raises operational and security concerns. An employee’s personal mobile device, laptop or tablet can be integrated onto an officially-sanctioned VDI environment. This takes it from a potential security risk, to a secure, authorised and monitored network device where information is protected from accidental disclosure and loss.
The changing face of VDI
Although VDI has always had the potential to enable improved workforce agility and centralised network management, for some time, IT analysts and industry experts stated that VDI adoption was relatively slow.
Hardly surprising as it was previously hindered by high cost, complicated software licensing and weak network connections. Now, with the advent of hyperconverged Edge Computing and the reductions in cost and complexity it brings, businesses of all kinds and sizes can benefit from VDI technology.
IT teams and end-users can easily adopt VDI thanks to the added functionality, improvements to network response times and significant simplification of system management.
Being able to create offsite backups at remote locations or in the cloud provides an added layer of IT resilience and security, while automation and centralisation capabilities now take care of the most important, but time-consuming, heavy-lifting.
Thanks to the perfect pairing of Edge Computing and HCI, it’s hardly surprising that VDI has risen in popularity in recent years, and this growth is not set to slow down any time soon.