The Increasing Popularity of Desktop Virtualisation
Virtualised desktop infrastructure (VDI) has been gaining traction in the last years. In 2013, although adoption was only around 1-3%, the number of companies implementing VDI had doubled. Constant improvements in VDI technology and application support are driving more businesses to pursue a VDI. There are probably some scenarios out there that will never see virtualisation take the place of rich clients, though even with the current state of the market, there are some scenarios where VDI makes overwhelming sense. Ease of maintenance, increased security, mobility and virtual environment search are all part of the VDI offering. Healthcare is currently one of the key use cases where the benefits of VDI can make a large impact.
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The benefits of VDI
In a VDI, the desktop is much easier to maintain. Everything is stored centrally in the data centre, so changes can be made much more quickly than individually modifying rich clients. Users either access an individual desktop in persistent VDI or share a master image in a non-persistent VDI implementation. This locking-down of the desktop image has the benefit of making the system more secure. This provides extra security by vetting the software installed, removing the possibility for users to add software. It also ensures that all software distributed across the system is standardised. Desktop images can be locked down on regular desktops, but in virtualisation, updates and applications can be deployed company-wide in one step. If the system is compromised, the image can be rolled back to its last stable state, as essential for disaster recovery.
The greatest benefit of VDI is mobility. In a persistent VDI, the user can just load their virtual desktop from any enabled terminal. In a non-persistent implementation, the user receives a fresh OS image and loads their user profile. This means that in both systems, no matter where the user is, they can access their usual data and applications. Currently, support extends to most OS, so that whether the user is on a phone, iPad, laptop or thin client, they have access to their enterprise apps. An added benefit is that any sensitive information is stored securely in the data centre and also provides much better capabilities for effective virtual environment search. Currently, virtual environment search lies outside the capabilities of Windows search. There are, however, some strong virtual environment search tools that can exploit the benefits of a virtual environment.
VDI: Not for Everyone
There are some great benefits of VDI, but the sceptics are not without their reasons. Despite the advantages of VDI, adoption has been slow given the now mature age of the technology. Although VDI can save money, at present, setting up VDI takes a large amount of capital and the financial ROI will be slow at best. The infrastructure and setup is costly, which is one motivating factor for companies to pursue hosted virtual desktops as DaaS. Similarly, centralisation of data and mobile access can be achieved using cloud storage. What has factored heavily into VDI criticism is the need for network connectivity, and the variable user experience as a result of sub-optimal network conditions. As the technology improves, these issues are being slowly addressed, and the barriers to VDI lowered.
VDI gives more control of the infrastructure than externally cloud-hosted DaaS. The comparative downside of VDI is the setup cost and maintenance. However, as the drawbacks of VDI are addressed, we can expect to see virtualisation gaining a strong foothold, whether internal or hosted.
Healthcare benefitting from VDI
With the current capabilities of VDI, there are some situations where the benefits of virtualisation can be truly realised. One of these is in healthcare. In the healthcare industry, mobile, secure access to patient data is essential. Staff within the hospital move around constantly and need the tools they use to be available, no matter which room they are in. Having a VDI in place means that staff can access their own workspace and perform a system-wide virtual environment search from any terminal in the hospital, and potentially beyond.
With the exception of some image processing, which is still easily achievable, most hospital tasks don’t require particularly resource-heavy computing. This aspect means a high user experience can be delivered without significant bandwidth concerns. The fairly narrow and homogenised nature of the apps required makes healthcare a good use case for non-persistent VDI, so the benefits of locked-down disk images can be realised. The further centralisation lends itself well to universal data access for employees, virtual environment search, and the added security can be demonstrated to comply with sensitive patient data.
VDI has been demonstrated to work effectively in hospital environments and reduce time wasted with technology issues. Furthermore, the benefit of information access can truly be leveraged using a strong virtual environment search to make sure no data is overlooked.