Time to Take VDI to the Cloud?

  • September 21, 2021
Graphic image of workers connecting to cloud technology

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) had enjoyed years of steady growth, fueled by the widespread availability of high-speed internet and powerful mobile devices. Many corporate IT departments embraced VDI to support an increasingly mobile workforce and ease the burden of managing physical desktop computers. Over the last two years, the pandemic only accelerated VDI adoption, as organizations found themselves scrambling to provide sufficient resources to employees who suddenly had no option but to work from home.

Today, those companies are coming to terms with the fact that a large percentage of their workforce may never return to the office full-time, and they’re looking for ways to optimize the remote work experience for the long term. As it turns out, the next step in the evolution of VDI may be moving it to the cloud.

The upsides of cloud VDI

While there are still good reasons to host virtual desktops (VD’s) on in-house data centers, migrating at least some VDI users to a cloud environment can offer significant advantages in the right circumstances. For example, VDI in the cloud creates the flexibility to scale the number of desktops up or down without capacity restraints (or paying for unused capacity), which is especially attractive for companies expanding rapidly or dealing with seasonal fluctuations. Companies can also deploy virtual desktops anywhere globally without worrying about the physical distance to the data center. These enhancements make life easier for the IT department, but they also provide a better user experience for employees who can’t be hampered by lagging connectivity.

Cloud VDI can also provide significant cost-saving opportunities. First, cloud-hosted desktops are provided as a service, which means companies spend far less on purchasing and maintaining traditional desktop infrastructure that may soon become obsolete. Cloud-based desktops also minimize the time IT staffers must spend on physical device management and desk-side support, providing another source of savings.

Six great use cases

It may not be the best solution for every user, but there is a growing list of scenarios where moving virtual desktops to the cloud makes perfect sense. Here are several common examples:

  1. Better SaaS performance: Many companies have already made extensive moves to take advantage of cloud technologies such as software-as-a-service (SaaS), including enterprise-wide commitments to Microsoft Office 365. In these cases, VDI desktops and the software they’re running will usually perform better in the cloud because internet access between two cloud providers is typically much faster than it is from a corporate environment to the cloud.
  2. Enabling Bring Your Own PC (BYOPC): Using unmanaged, personally owned computers for work increases an organization’s risk of security breaches, leading to potential data loss and reputation damage. By offering cloud-based desktops to employees, a company can enable BYOPC and support remote work at scale. Remote employees can use their own PCs to connect to the cloud and hosted content. Alternatively, BYOPC can supplement the employee’s use of a company-issued system. BYOPC can be helpful in situations where employees don’t want to carry a corporate computer back home or when going on a vacation to do simple tasks like checking email or providing approvals.
  3. Onboarding employees and temporary staff: Companies can use secure cloud desktops to make new employees and temporary staff productive on day one, without sending them a traditional PC or laptop. Cloud-based desktops are also preferable from a security and compliance standpoint, as they’re easier to patch and update, and no data resides on the endpoint.
  4. Sustaining business continuity and faster disaster recovery: Every company needs a plan to maintain business continuity in a catastrophic event, but maintaining a completely redundant computing infrastructure is unnecessarily expensive for short-term usage. Companies can score significant savings by opting to failover to virtual desktops in the cloud, only paying for the service when it’s needed. In addition, choosing “deprecated performance” — a scaled-down solution in terms of speed and computing power — can make disaster recovery even more cost-effective while providing more than sufficient resources to keep employees productive until the primary infrastructure is back online.
  5. Convenient ‘loaner’ desktops: Cloud-based VDI provides an ideal temporary replacement when a user’s primary device goes down. For example, if an employee drops his company laptop and breaks the screen, he can instantly access a virtual desktop through his home computer, tablet, or any other device. This solution works incredibly well when user data is synchronized to the cloud through Microsoft’s OneDrive or a similar service.
  6. Converting CAPEX to OPEX: Companies can select cloud-based VDI if they do not have the expertise or critical mass to deploy on-premises VDI or have fluctuating numbers of users. Adopting cloud desktops helps IT move towards utility-based pricing with the flexibility of scaling up and down based on seasonal, or even daily, usage peaks and troughs. Cloud desktops also allow the company to opt for a device-as-a-service model and potentially generate savings by forgoing the purchase of expensive hardware with high-end configurations.

Despite cloud VDI’s versatility, in reality, most organizations arrive at a hybrid of cloud and traditional on-premise infrastructure designed to meet the needs of diverse user groups. After all, there are still cases when remaining on the in-house data center makes the most sense. The effect of data gravity is one key consideration. If there are virtual desktops that are heavily dependent on data and applications that still reside in the company’s data center, those users may be best served by keeping their VDs in the data center as well. Another area where cloud-based VDI is currently lacking is in supporting Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) workloads. Though Microsoft has reported that it’s currently working on better options to handle even the most GPU-intensive jobs, the possibilities in the cloud for GPUs remain cost-prohibitive to date.

Take a deliberate approach

As with any workplace technology initiative, the ultimate goal is to equip employees with the tools and services they need to be at their productive best. And moving VDI to the cloud can certainly be another step in the right direction for many companies, especially with the lingering uncertainty of the pandemic.

A logical way to initiate this transition is to thoroughly analyze users’ needs to determine which roles are good candidates for cloud-based VDI versus more traditional methods. NTT DATA has helped its clients automate this research phase with purpose-built analytics engines that collect data on the user experience with complete transparency and no user intervention. After developing user personas based on the analysis, the company can target user groups and services that are fit for virtualization.

Whether it’s VDI in the cloud, in the data center, or a combination of both, the result is optimized performance and productivity for every employee.

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Brian Marranzini

Brian is a Senior Director for Digital Workplace Services at NTT DATA and has more than 20 years of industry experience. He works with NTT DATA’s largest clients to elevate the employee experience and productivity while optimizing costs, leveraging AI, automation, machine learning and modern workplace technologies. Before NTT DATA, Brian worked for Microsoft, helping clients and partners on Microsoft’s core infrastructure technologies. He has authored multiple magazine articles and has spoken at many technical conferences, including delivering keynote addresses for worldwide product launches.

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