Covid-19 forced the entire world to rethink how people work. In Canada, lockdowns and social distancing caused a 967% surge in the number of people working remotely versus pre-pandemic times. Now that restrictions are loosening, 77% of Canadians say they want the flexibility to continue working from home, as well as going to the office. Yet four out of five are concerned that their employers aren’t equipped to handle this sort of hybrid working model.
Both employers and employees are looking for a workable redefinition of the workplace. Perhaps virtual desktops are the answer. Virtual desktop environments enable user productivity, business continuity and operational efficiency, no matter where the workplace happens to be. They are even future-proof for events like pandemics.
What is a Virtual Desktop?
A virtual desktop, or virtual machine (VM), has the same interface, the same icons, runs the same apps and looks the same as working on a physical device. The user experience is almost identical, except the operating system and apps are hosted on a server or in the cloud rather than residing on the hardware. For example, Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) infrastructure is a cloud-hosted desktop and app virtualization, powered by fast Azure backbone connectivity. Users can connect to the virtual desktop and have the familiar Windows experience, regardless of whether their device is corporate or BYOD (bring your own device), and running Windows, Mac, iOS or Android.
Advantages of Virtual Desktops
Virtual desktops are known for being efficient, flexible, scalable and secure. Since none of the data resides on the local device, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) can enable IT teams to better control corporate data and keep it safe. How? VDI enables a standardized IT environment with centralized data protected by firewalls, security protocols and policies.
Unlike physical desktops, virtual desktops run only company-approved software, which is stored and distributed from a central location. This centralization also makes it easy to scale app user numbers, storage space, compute power, and essentially meet all user needs, from powering 3D graphics rendering to enabling simple email and web browsing capabilities. VDI can also deliver potential cost savings because, in essence, it is screen sharing and keyboard functionality transmitted across a network, so internet and hardware requirements are lighter.
5 Virtual Desktop Implementation Pro Tips
When it comes to designing and building your virtual desktop infrastructure, here are some helpful tips.
- Check Connection Latency
High latency connections can make sessions feel sluggish, so it’s important to analyze the latency between the home user's location and where they are connecting to the data center. The closest physical site won’t necessarily provide the fastest connection. For Azure Virtual Desktop users, go to https://azure.microsoft.com/en-ca/services/virtual-desktop/assessment from your site or server to see the lowest latency Microsoft Azure Data Center.
- Ensure App Compatibility
The next important consideration is the compatibility of your apps. In an Azure Virtual Desktop environment there can be two modes: personal desktop and pooled. Personal desktop mode is when each user is assigned to a dedicated virtual machine. This mode is used when there are applications that require a one-to-one mapping between the user and the virtual machine. Pooled mode, on the other hand, enables multiple users to log onto a pool of machines, scaling according to needs, such as a pool of 3 virtual machines that can allow up to 9 users. In pooled mode, applications must be multi-user-friendly, like Microsoft Office or a web browser. This mode provides opportunities for app resource sharing, and thus savings.
- Have an Internet Redundancy Plan
There is no accessing the virtual desktop without internet service, so a redundancy plan is key. Plan for cellular backup by the same or, even better, a different carrier than the home office service provider so users can tether to a working cell network if the internet fails.
- Plan for Optimization
A virtual desktop implementation requires a rethink of how data flows. On a physical desktop, services such as OneDrive and SharePoint cache files to the local hard drive. Whereas a virtual desktop provides quick access in what is essentially a live stream directly to the device. This is possible with Azure Virtual Desktop infrastructure because the virtual desktop is directly plugged into the Azure backbone. To optimize AVD, caching must be disabled, and the reason is storage. To avoid bloat and unnecessary use of internet bandwidth, you don't want, say, a OneDrive file to download and cache on the local machine, you just want it to open and be connected live. The cost of storage would increase and the system would be sluggish if it were full of gigs of OneDrive cached files, and it would also complicate the virtual infrastructure on the back end. Plus, if the same user were to go offline and then log into a second VM to access the same files, the files would cache a second time, causing storage sprawl.
Another optimization strategy is to set up centrally-managed user profiles, which quickly load onto the virtual desktop for each user. Profile Container is a handy software that redirects the entire user profile to whichever VM the employee is using in the pool, including just the apps that are authorized for that user. The apps, themselves, are stored in a central repository, and there is no need for IT to physically install, maintain and patch multiple systems in the pool. Each update needs to happen only once, licensing only needs to be purchased for users with permission, and the user profile system manages user access. All of this can represent a huge savings on administrative overheads associated with app management and optimization.
- Build in a Fail-Safe
At CrucialLogics, we make sure we only build to 80% of your load capacity, meaning out of 10 systems in a pool, we keep 2 in reserve as a fail-safe. This ensures systems are always up and running, and even if we need to take a system down for maintenance, users can fail over onto one of the other systems and stay productive.
Overall, Azure Virtual Desktop infrastructure enables operational expenses to be better aligned with business usage. It has the power to keep the office and remote workers productive from anywhere while enabling IT teams to better control, secure, and manage your corporate data and apps in a centralized environment. Want to learn more about what AVD infrastructure can do for your business? Read the full article or talk to us today.