Jan 27 2023
Digital Workspace

2023 Federal Tech Trends: Client Virtualization Is Growing, But Is It Right for You?

Desktop as a Service is popular among agencies, and virtual desktop infrastructure remains an option.
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For years, client virtualization has been beneficial for federal agency IT leaders. With the recent rise in hybrid and remote work, it has seen a resurgence.

For example, in July 2022, Microsoft received Department of Defense accreditation for its client virtualization service and made it available to its federal agency customers working with secret-level data. Months later, the Army introduced the capability to its users.

Rather than equipping every agency employee with a desktop computer full of data and licensed software, client virtualization moves the data and software to servers in the organization’s data center. Each desktop or client connects to the server.

Using zero clients, thin clients or BYOD mobile devices instead of traditional desktop machines, IT teams save money by not having to buy and set up thick clients, and the devices are more energy-efficient. Because applications are run and data is stored in a central server, rather than on clients, IT teams have an easier time managing and securing the information.

Decoupled from the physical desktop in physical agency headquarters, employees can work from anywhere. Although government employees are making their way back to the office, IT leaders must maintain flexibility to support them wherever they are working.

Desktop as a Service may allow them to do that. One of the major types of client virtualization, DaaS came to prominence during the pandemic because it enabled agencies to scale up quickly and relatively inexpensively to support employees for remote work. Research from Gartner shows that spending on DaaS will continue to climb in 2023, driven by continued cloud migration.

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The Case for Desktop as a Service

Desktop as a Service typically transfers the responsibility of managing the agency’s virtual desktops to a cloud service provider, including the image, applications and software, all for a subscription fee.

Agencies benefit from DaaS in a few key areas:

  1. It’s inexpensive to start. “While there can be some setup fees associated with DaaS, deployment generally requires a lower cost upfront since the service provider supplies the infrastructure,” writes Monica Griesemer, a product marketing manager for Citrix DaaS, in a company blog post. “And with a pay-per-user subscription model, organizations can scale or change their investment as their needs evolve.”
  2. It’s quick, flexible and scalable. “DaaS allows organizations to quickly respond to the needs of a project that involves a ramp-up and a ramp-down of workers,” Chris Howard, former vice president of U.S. public sector at Nutanix, writes for CDW in a blog post. “Through a DaaS solution, the data and requirements each end user needs to complete a project can be accessed through the cloud. Once the project is completed, the data can be collected and removed from the cloud server.”
    Howard notes that DaaS is particularly helpful for cross-agency and multioffice collaborations.
  3. It’s secure, to a point. Because data doesn’t live on the client, there is less security concern with lost or stolen devices. In the event of a security breach, DaaS enables IT leaders to contain the problem within a virtual session and start users with a clean state.

“DaaS’ capability to use nonpersistent virtual machines ensures that any kind of attacks against the browser stay within the [virtual] session and never make it back into the core enterprise,” Howard writes. Nonpersistent desktops save nothing after logout, which requires fewer images and less management.

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When to Consider Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Virtual desktop infrastructure is a cousin of DaaS in the family tree of client virtualization. The main difference between the two is that with VDI, the virtual desktop usually lives in the agency’s on-premises servers.

With DaaS, IT teams transfer a lot of their control to cloud providers. With VDI, responsibility stays with the agency to set up the infrastructure and maintain all aspects of it. VDI may be the better option for organizations with skilled IT teams and resources to continually manage software and hardware, especially where high security is critical.

Think of remote access as a spectrum ranging from minimal constraints to a great deal of constraints, says Scott Buchholz, CTO for Deloitte’s government and public services practice. “The further you get along the more-secure spectrum,” he says, “the more you need in terms of hardware and software to enable that.”

LEARN ABOUT: What is Device as a Service and how can it help government agencies?

By maintaining control of the infrastructure with VDI, “IT can use whatever management, software, monitoring, and security tools they desire, and can also make low-level configuration changes to the infrastructure when necessary,” Griesemer writes. The agency also has better insight into its environment compared with DaaS.

Cost is a factor in the decision to use VDI. The infrastructure is more expensive upfront to purchase hardware and upgrade data centers as needed. After the initial investment, however, costs go down, thanks to minimal ongoing operational expenditure.

Like most IT solutions, client virtualization is not one-size-fits-all. Agency IT leaders must evaluate their needs before investing in the tech, whether it’s Desktop as a Service or virtual desktop infrastructure.

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