What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)?

4 min read

An examination of virtual desktop infrastructure, how it works, and the benefits it brings.

There are large changes happening within the work landscape as work from home and hybrid cloud ecosystems are becoming commonplace. With the sprawl of employees and environments, it has become difficult to administer the manageability, security, and infrastructure requirements needed to keep a business running. Due to these challenges, IT leaders are looking for tools that securely ease the management of these environments without breaking the bank. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is that tool.

What is VDI and how does it work?

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is the creation and management of desktop environments and applications that allow employees to work and access applications and services outside the office, in the office, or from a remote location. Virtualization solutions support VDI deployments through creating a virtual compute system — known as virtual machines (VMs) — that allows organizations to run multiple applications and operating systems on a single physical server in a data center. VDI is enabled through hosting a desktop operating system — such as Microsoft Windows Desktop — within VMs that all run on a host server. 

By using the desktop operating system hosted on a virtual machine (VM) on a host server, IT managers can deploy their corporate data, applications, and desktops to users in a virtual data center and deliver them as a service via the internet. This is in contrast to traditional PCs, where a user utilizes a physical, portable personal endpoint device from an on-premises location. 

When implementing a VDI solution, a connection broker finds a virtual desktop within the resource pool for each employee to connect to when accessing the VDI environment. Examples of connection brokers include Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, VMware Horizon, Amazon Workspaces, Microsoft Azure and Nutanix. 

Users can securely connect to their desktop images, like Microsoft Windows, through any device or location. Having the ability to access your applications from anywhere is helpful because it means you don't need to actually be in the office at your physical desktop with an endpoint machine, and it allows you to BYOD — "bring your own devices" — (including PCs, tablets, or thin client terminals) from wherever is easiest for you.

For more background on application virtualization solutions and virtualization technology, in general, see the following video and check out the article, "5 Benefits of Virtualization":

Benefits of VDI

The following are a few of the most important benefits provided by virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI): 

  • Increased scalability: Cloud computing has made VDI more enticing through leveraging scalable infrastructure to consume resources when required by the VDI. By consolidating all of the VDI infrastructure on a host server, it reduces the hardware requirements and purchases, since users can access their environments from any device. 
  • Centralized management: VDIs provide a centralized management structure that allows administrators to patch, update, and change all virtualized desktops at a single time. There is no longer a requirement of needing to fix the entire organization individually. This also allows for a complete desktop disaster recovery strategy because all components are saved and backed up in the data center.
  • Security: VDI helps businesses maintain their complete confidentiality since the applications live on the host server in the data center and not the client device. If a device is ever stolen or corrupted, the connectivity of the device can be terminated to protect the businesses’ data. It is critical, however, that the operating system images be properly managed and updated, and the authentication of remote workers must be thorough.
  • Accessibility: VDI allows end-users to “bring your own device” (BYOD) and use their devices gain remote access to their files, applications and cloud services from any location. This essentially creates a digital workspace/remote desktop, creating a better user experience and making it significantly easier to work from home because employees can utilize PCs, tablets, smartphones and thin clients.
  • Cost savings: Hardware expenses are significantly reduced, since IT does not need to keep purchasing new hardware. The consolidation of the processing on the server helps drive the decrease in IT expenditure.

VDI vs. desktop virtualization

VDI is a type of desktop virtualization, as desktop virtualization is an overarching term that cover any technology that separates the desktop and hardware. For a deeper dive into the higher-level category, see "What is Desktop Virtualization?"

Persistent VDI vs. non-persistent VDI deployments

Persistent VDI enables a personalized desktop, as the user connects to the same desktop. This allows users to tailor their desktops, since the changes are saved, turning their virtual desktop environment into a customizable and highly personalized digital workspace.

Non-persistent VDI, on the other hand, is a generic desktop that has a single-use connection, since changes are not saved. The non-persistent VDI approach is ideal for organizations with employees who have a lot of repetitive tasks, as its usually cheaper and easier to manage. 

VDI use cases

  • Call centers: VDI allows the employees in the call center to access only the information and tools needed to complete their tasks. This streamlines efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
  • Remote work: VDI enables team members to access the same company networks, applications, and resources, while being geographically dispersed, since the VDIs can all be deployed and managed from a central point.
  • Regulatory compliance: Some heavily regulated industries have run into problems with their employees  storing confidential information improperly. By centralizing the management with VDI, it helps eliminate the problem of incorrectly storing data and applications. 
  • Third-party access: When leveraging a contractor or business partner, these employees need company-owned hardware to connect to the entire system. This is expensive, especially for shorter projects. This makes VDI the ideal solution to give contractors secure access to company information without needing to provide or procure hardware.

Why VDI might be right for you

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is an integral part of many companies’ IT strategy because it allows businesses to reduce their expenses and simplify management of these systems. The importance of VDI is becoming exponentially accelerated as companies look at enabling a more flexible work landscape because it provides the accessibility, security, scalability, automation and ease of use to implement quickly and effectively.

Learn more about VDI

If you’re looking to build your own VDI environment, you can do so with IBM Cloud IaaS solutions. IBM offers a full-stack cloud platform that includes all the components you’d need to build your own VDI environment, including virtualized compute, network, and storage. You’d need to install and manage the hypervisor yourself in this scenario.

In partnership with VMware, IBM offers customer-managed and partially VMware-managed VDI solutions (with VMware Horizon) and a fully-managed virtual Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solution, delivering desktops and virtualized applications hosted on the IBM Cloud platform.

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