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Certainly the most popular product requested by our clients are desktops in the cloud.   Law firms and other companies that have distributed workforces or the need to work “on the go” love the convenience of remote desktop access.  While Blue Sentry offers a high performance and economical cloud desktop that can even be HIPAA compliant if necessary, there are many options.  AWS has rolled out their own managed desktop called Workspaces, and many other vendors offer some version of a remotely hosted desktop.

Why are cloud desktops becoming so popular? One reason is cost. For many companies a true high availability Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) has been a dream for a long time, but the amount of capital expenditure required to make VDI a reality is prohibitive for most. The advent of elastic cloud IaaS means that no capital expenditure is required and a company can pay only for what it uses. Thus high performance, high availability cloud desktops are now within reach of nearly any firm.

What are the advantages? Well, they are legion. The list below is my no means exhaustive:

  1. Cloud desktops can dramatically increase application performance over wide area networks by keeping all traffic between the desktop and the application server local and shipping out to the user only the screen changes.
  2. No more cost to replace outdated hardware and operating systems
  3. No security risk with lost hardware or irate employees—if someone goes rogue or loses the device they were using to access their cloud desktop, the administrator just turns off the desktop or changes the credentials.
  4. Users enjoy a seamless uninterrupted work experience at the office, at home, on the go—anywhere and on any device. The experience is the same on the go as it is in the office
  5. Cloud desktops are hardware agnostic. Want to run a Windows desktop session on your MacBook or iOS device? No problem
  6. Many companies are resorting to thin or zero clients to cut down on the hardware support effort. Some companies provide only the cloud desktop and look to employees to access it from their own devices.
  7. All of your work and your data in one place. No need to carry a laptop to stay in synch

What should you look out for?

  1. How are they priced? Do you want a per-user- per-month flat fee or an elastic pricing model?
  2. What is the quality of my internet connection? Many users experience typing lag when using cloud desktops. This is due to network latency rather than bandwidth. In practice the amount of bandwidth required to provide a great user experience is quite low because you are shipping up only mouse clicks and key strokes while shipping down only screen changes.   Network latency, however can cause a terrible work experience no matter how much bandwidth you have. For sites with heavy concentrations of users we often recommend using Amazon Direct Connect or Azure Express Route. These are often layer 2, low latency connections that do not use internet routing to reach your cloud resources. This provides an added layer of security as a bonus.
  3. How will your users connect? Is it secure seamless, intuitive and easy? Users can often get confused by remote desktop sessions, not knowing whether they are working locally or in the cloud. Terminal servers with public-facing are a security no-no so some type of software VPN for remote users is often best while in-office users work over a direct connect or IP/Sec tunnel.
  4. Do you need HIPAA compliant desktops?  If your users are handling personally identifiable data or confidential medical records, in order to remain HIPAA compliant, your users’ desktops cannot run on the same virtual host hardware as users from other companies.  This along with data encryption at rest and in transit are important considerations for HIPAA covered entities.  Fortunately Blue Sentry’s cloud desktop can ensure for your firm that these requirements are met.

So are they here to stay? If I had to bet, I would bet for them rather than against. With this many advantages, cost coming down and easily mitigated drawbacks the future seems bright.

Blue Sentry is an advanced-tier Amazon Web Services (AWS) consulting partner specializing in application and data migrations, expert managed services and virtual desktops. Blue Sentry serves clients globally, with operations in North Carolina and South Carolina.