Snapshot Mobile Warrior

VDI could make smooth transition to mobile world

For a while now, virtual desktop infrastructure technology has been by some as a gateway to the cloud for desktop users. But it is becoming increasingly clear that VDI also could play a pivotal role in supporting mobile initiatives.

VDI’s ease of administration, enhanced security and rapid elasticity have spurred agency adoption of virtual desktop environments. All of the major defense services, including the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps are in various stages of implementing or evaluating virtual desktop infrastructures. For example, the Army is now expanding a virtual desktop-as-a-service program at the Pentagon with a view of moving Army and DOD personnel away from traditional desktop computers to zero-client monitor and keyboard user stations.

The Army’s Information Technology Agency hopes to improve security and management, cut operating costs, and reduce the time it takes to patch and update software. ITA officials plan to install 2,000 unclassified and 2,000 classified virtual-desktop-as-a-service stations in the Pentagon by the close of fiscal year 2014, according to reports.

Around eight years ago, federal agencies embarked on the VDI journey as a way to give remote workers and those working from home access to work applications and systems. Virtual desktop infrastructures typically store all of the users’ desktop applications and systems on a virtual server in a data center and stream those services to an end user station, so in most cases, no applications are stored at the user site.

Although the emphasis in VDI’s early days was not on mobility, VDI does offer a smooth transition to the mobile world, said Bryan Salek, staff systems engineer for end user with VMware Public Sector, which has worked with partners to deploy a VDI infrastructure supporting 10,000 virtual desktops in Tampa, Fla. and Qatar for Army U.S. Central Command. Agency managers now want to centrally manage virtual, physical and mobile devices. VDI can deliver virtualized, remote desktops and application services through a single platform to end users, creating one unified workspace, Salek said.

Desktop virtualization on mobile devices solves several problems such as desktop management and security, but can introduce new problems, too, that end users should be aware of, said Shawn McCarthy, research director with IDC Government Insights.

A clear benefit is improved security, McCarthy noted. Mobile devices can be lost or stolen putting data on them at risk. “A virtual desktop environment helps with that greatly because it keeps the data in a secure location that is centralized,” McCarthy said. “On the flip side, you have issues of a lot of applications were not made for viewing on mobile devices,” he said. “If you have to scroll all over the map to view or interact with the application it can be frustrating for the employee and create chances for bad data to be entered and missed fields and forms.”

Virtual desktop infrastructures have to be architected and designed properly from the outset to work effectively, Salek noted. VDI is a mature technology with new capabilities—such as the concept of unified workspaces—being added regularly to help enhance the end users’ computing experience whether they are on a zero- or thin-client user station, tablet computer or smartphone, he said.

Baking in security and planning for storage and performance issues are key elements in successful VDI deployments, according to industry experts. Elasticity, the ability to add more servers or desktops to a network to meet demand, can be achieved more easily within a VDI environment if the infrastructure is designed properly.