Everyone understands the concept of a physical desktop. All your files and applications live on your PC or laptop and are accessible to you whenever you log into that device. A virtual desktop is the same concept, but rather than being tied to a specific device, the virtual desktop lives on servers—or in the cloud—and can be accessible from any laptop or desktop configured to access it.
What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure?
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) uses software to create desktop instances on a server at a location or in a cloud environment. Each virtual desktop is assigned to a user, and when that user accesses their virtual desktop, they have access to all the files and applications meant for them. The end user accesses their files or applications by simply launching an application or going to a specific site in a web browser.
How Does Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Work?
If done correctly, the virtual desktop should look and act almost the same as a physical desktop. Once an end user launches the desktop, they can use it in the same way they would use a traditional desktop on a laptop or PC. But unlike a traditional desktop, the virtual desktop is not powered by the machine on which it is viewed. With VDI, the desktop is projected on the screen, which significantly reduces the amount of hard drive space or processing resources needed for the physical devices displaying the desktop.
How to Set Up Virtual Desktop Infrastructure for Your Institution
There are many different options for setting up a VDI. Public cloud solutions like Microsoft® Azure also have options for virtual desktops that are fully hosted. Each institution should setup the VDI solution according to their specific needs.
Institutions should also understand how their employees will be using the desktops and plan accordingly for storage, processing operations and connectivity. Setting up and managing a VDI can be costly and time consuming, especially if done incorrectly. And a bank setup for VDI will look different than other types of organizations as the core, teller and other applications must be considered. Partnering with a technology company that has experience configuring and deploying a VDI solution is critical to ensure success.
How is Security Enhanced with VDI Solutions?
VDI empowers institutions to enhance their IT infrastructure and strengthen security. One significant security benefit of VDI is the ability to centralize the management of desktops. Virtual desktops can be patched easily as they do not require the user to manually restart their machines or remote users to connect to the network. By streamlining patching, vulnerabilities can be addressed quickly, leaving less opportunity for exploitation.
VDI solutions also offer enhanced data loss prevention and eliminate the need and ability for local storage. Sensitive information does not leave the network, offering less opportunity for it to be accessed by unauthorized parties. This is also helpful if a device is lost or stolen since nothing is saved on the actual hard drive of the machine. VDI also limits network access and can be locked down and controlled easily. Some remote access solutions require the network to be left open, and if exploited, the entire network could be available to bad actors.
Institutions should implement a layered approach to security on the infrastructure hosting the environment and the virtual desktop itself. Anti-virus/anti-malware solutions, two-factor authentication and security controls like admin access should be deployed to ensure data stays within the virtual environment. It is also recommended that you store, correlate and alert on logs within the VDI environment to detect potential breaches and prevent attacks.
Finally, consider using the CIS Controls as a guide for securing your VDI solution. While the controls may look slightly different when securing VDI, many of the same rules apply. The Center for Internet Security recently released a CIS Controls Cloud Companion Guide for those looking to implement VDI in the cloud.
Key Advantages of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
A properly configured VDI offers your institution a variety of benefits. Let’s break down the advantages of this technology:
- Security: As previously mentioned, VDI offers many security enhancements such as data loss prevention, patching simplification and secure remote access.
- Flexibility: Since a virtual desktop is not tied to a specific machine, a user can access their custom desktop on any machine. For instance, if your tellers do not always work at the same window, or even the same branch, they can access the same desktop from any location. Additionally, if a user’s machine malfunctions, they do not lose work or waste time setting up an entirely new machine.
- Remote Access: Virtual desktops are a secure and manageable option for remote access. VDI opens considerable opportunities for institutions navigating the changing landscape of remote, in-office and hybrid workforces.
- Desktop/Laptop Cost Savings: Many firms that implement a VDI solution save money on PCs and laptops. Existing devices can have extended life past the traditional three- to five-year recommendation, as computing is reduced on the local machine. When the time comes for a device refresh, many firms that utilize VDI choose to purchase thin clients—or computers with limited internal resources, optimized for connecting to a server-based environment—which are overall less expensive than desktops or laptops that require large hard drives and computing power.
- Business Continuity: With structured business continuity plans and disaster recovery scenarios, VDI allows for work to continue with minimal disruption. Despite physical location, VDI supports continuity of operations by providing users with a uniform desktop experience if network connectivity is available. But with traditional desktops, operations could suffer if users do not have access to their devices, files and applications until the disaster or disruptive event is resolved.
Critical Considerations for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
When deciding if VDI is right for your institution, consider the possible risks or drawbacks. Here are the biggest risks:
- Complexity: If a VDI environment is set up incorrectly, it can be a headache for both users and IT staff. Desktop infrastructure is critical for work and misconfiguration must be avoided.
- Investment: VDI requires additional storage, operational bandwidth and software, so organizations might find themselves needing to invest in costly SANs and servers to hold and run hundreds of desktops. Public cloud environments with built-in VDI solutions can help reduce the cost associated with implementing and maintaining VDI.
- Disaster Recovery and Backup: If something happens to the servers or network hosting the VDI solution, the issue will affect multiple, and possibly all, users. With a traditional desktop issue, only a single user is affected. Because of this, it is extremely important to have a good backup and disaster recovery solution.
Learn More about Cloud Hosting Services
VDI is a powerful tool that will enhance your IT infrastructure as you navigate the ever-changing business landscape. Learn more about VDI and the benefits of migrating your IT infrastructure to the public cloud by downloading CSI’s public cloud white paper.
Rachael Schwartz has more than ten years of experience in advising financial firms. Prior to joining CSI, she worked with some of the largest hedge funds and private equity funds in New York City as an IT and cybersecurity consultant. In her current role at CSI, she lends her expertise to community banks, helping them maximize their technology investments and increase security while reducing their operational burdens.