Remote work has become the new reality of the modern business landscape. It has become an integral part of business continuity strategies across industries, amidst the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. With large-scale “work from home” becoming inevitable, more and more organizations are actively exploring all the remote work options.
When it comes to remote access, businesses need it for several reasons. It is not just restricted to accessing simple cloud applications like email. Organizations require to offer remote access to an array of business applications such as customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting, healthcare, finance, and so on. Many of these specialized applications need secure and reliable remote access solutions.
With several options available in the market, it becomes difficult for you to choose the right remote access solution for your business. This post helps you understand what are some of the top remote access solutions, what are the key differences between them, and which solution is best for your business.
What are some of the major remote access solutions?
There are many remote access services. Two of the most prominent of them are:
1) Virtual Private Network (VPN)
In the world of the internet, Virtual Private Network, famously abbreviated as VPN, is one of the best ways to secure your applications and data while working remotely. It is a technology that allows you to securely connect to your corporate network from any geographical location through the internet.
VPN is generally restricted to desktops and laptops (including Macs) and offers access to network resources like printers and shared folders remotely through a secured internet connection. For using a VPN, a user is required to have a connection setup or install an application on his/her device.
A VPN is a lot more than just logging in and working remotely. It protects you against cyber threats such as identity theft while you are browsing the internet through it. It provides an additional layer of security with an application that protects your connection to the internet. An organizational VPN also protects your designated server.
Your connection to the internet via a VPN is taken via a virtual, private channel that others can’t access. This secure channel accesses the internet on behalf of your PC or laptop. It masks your identity and location, protecting you and your data from hackers. A lot of VPN solution providers also guarantee military-grade encryption and security through a tunnel. The security encryptions may vary based on an individual’s or an organization’s requirements.
You can access a VPN via authentication methods such as certificates, passwords, etcetera. In simple words, a VPN is a virtual point-to-point communication channel that allows you to access all those resources of a network/server to which you are allowed to connect and to which you have the necessary access permissions. One of the few drawbacks of a VPN is the loss of speed because of the encrypted, routed connections.
2) Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
A Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is another remote access solution that offers remote access to a virtual desktop. It provides each user his own dedicated Windows-based system that can be configured as per his liking. In a VDI, there are different virtual machines hosted on single or multiple servers. Each machine has its own exclusive resources. This leads to improved security and performance.
A VDI has a central server hosting through which it creates a virtual desktop and provides an endpoint connection to you. On the basis of the access permissions granted to you, you have access to all the resources hosted on this central server.
The endpoint via which you access a VDI can be a laptop, desktop, tablet, or even a smartphone. This enables on-the-go access for you. There is no chance of your identity or data getting misused or stolen as everything is hosted on the server. Moreover, a VDI also facilitates consistent user experience across all endpoints and thus, leads to a significant productivity boost.
What are the major differences between VPN and VDI?
The following are the key differences between VPN and VDI:
- A VPN utilizes an application on the client device (desktop or laptop) to create a secure connection and build a tunnel between the corporate network and the client device. While in a VDI, all users get their own dedicated systems that they can customize to their liking. Although, an administrator has the power to define policies that decide what remains uniform between various virtual systems and what all you can modify as a user.
- In a VPN, an end user’s device acts like it is in the office. A user uses this device to connect to all the applications and services offered by the corporate network, sending data securely through the encrypted tunnel. While in a VDI, all the resources are entirely dedicated and defined to each endpoint ( virtual user machine). It means that each endpoint or machine works independently of the others, providing a highly regulated and secured remote working environment.
- On a VPN, the processing takes place on the user’s device (client PC or Mac) while on a VDI, the processing takes place on the hosted central server.
Major talking points about VPN and VDI
When considering a remote access solution, specifically so between a VPN and VDI, there are several factors involved. Let’s understand how both VPN and VDI compare with each other on of all these major talking points.
Let’s now understand all these aspects in detail.
1) Server Interface or User Experience
A VPN is different from a VDI in the sense that it only offers a point-to-point connection through a secured, encrypted tunnel. Unlike the VDI, the processing in a VPN takes place on a user system. Therefore, in a VPN, the user experience depends entirely on the system you use (a PC or a Mac).
On the other hand, all users in a VDI work on their friendly Windows system interface. This enhances the comfort factor for all the users. An administrator may even allow you to customize (to some extent) your desktop interface to your liking. That way, you can give your desktop interface the look and feel that you are most accustomed to.
2) System Performance
VDI emerges as a better remote working solution as far as the overall system performance is concerned. Especially for businesses that rely heavily on connection speeds and processing power such as the graphics industry. A VDI is faster and offers a better performance and user satisfaction with its compartmentalized, dedicated resources for each user.
However, a VPN connection can slow down significantly depending upon the amount of data being transferred and the amount of encryption is done. The connection speeds also depend significantly on the user hardware.
If the cost is the only consideration for you, then VPN is a good option to go ahead with. It costs less as you can continue to use your existing systems with minimum installations or add-ons. With a VPN, your employees can securely connect to your corporate network and work safely from their respective locations. That too without any eavesdropping on the information being sent back and forth.
On the other hand, a VDI is costlier compared to a VPN. That is because VDI implementation requires an additional layer of software. For example, VMware is software that helps you run the hosted Virtual Machines.
4) Data Security and Privacy
VPN again trumps the VDI as far as your corporate data security and data privacy are concerned. When your employees are working from their homes or outside the office, VPN protects your data through an encrypted tunnel.
In a VDI, the system security largely depends upon the system administrator. How a VDI is implemented and configured plays a vital role in ensuring information security. Therefore, achieving reasonably good levels of security is also possible in a VDI, provided the administrator incorporates stringent measures while implementing it.
Once the initial setup is done, a VPN requires the least amount of maintenance amongst all the major remote access solutions. VDI, on the other hand, needs all updates and patches to be reflected throughout all virtual machines. Therefore, maintaining it may prove to be a bit more challenging.
6) End-User Hardware
As far as VDI is concerned, end-user hardware is not much consequential. It is only used for establishing the connection. Since all the processing and storage takes place on the central server, the server hardware is all that matters in a VDI.
However, in a VPN connection, all the processing takes place on your system, once a secure connection is established. Hence, the end-user configuration is important in a VPN.
You must also note that a VDI provides access to users for Mac, Windows, and occasionally, even for Android and iPhone.
Which of the two remote access solutions is right for your business?
Considering all the aforementioned talking points while selecting the right remote access solution for your business, it purely boils down to your specific requirements and priorities. It depends more upon how you define a better solution. Do you want faster or easier deployment? Or the one that is cheaper? Is the best user experience your priority? Or the best security? Do you want the solution for a small number of users or large?
However, you may not have a straightforward answer to all these questions. And the reason behind that is simple. You can’t simply say that a VPN is better than a VDI, or vice-versa. An organization may find VPN better while the other may find VDI. It completely depends upon their specific situation and needs.
Both VPN and VDI require huge engineering efforts to implement and get going. With a VDI, you need to think about IOPS (Input/Output operations per second), disk images, servers, printing, application layering, user profiles, login times, number of GPUs, monitors, bandwidth, and pixels, user updates, patches, etcetera. It takes great effort to understand it all.
And if you think a VPN is any simpler, you are wrong. Desktop architects have to spend years on image designing, thinking about how the applications are configured and installed. Setting up the security tools, disk encryption, software patches, VPN tunnels, and many more such things are there.
Hence, you must choose a solution that you are not only comfortable with but also that fulfills your business requirements and satisfies your defined business priorities. Moreover, that solution must also be in line with your long-term business vision.
The novel coronavirus has pushed the entire business landscape to move towards adopting work from home. That too, on a scale nobody had ever thought of, even in their wildest dreams. Such is the unprecedented situation we all are staring at. Hence, remote work is going to be one of the most significant aspects of business continuity for some time to come.
While remote work does seem a fun idea of doing business, implementing the same is far from fun. You, as a business owner, have to evaluate a lot of things and have to go through a rigorous study of all the available remote work solutions before finalizing one for your business. Ensuring data security is also a huge concern while implementing remote access.
While we did understand both VPN and VDI through this post, it still remains uncertain whether which of the two is a better remote work solution. There is, in fact, no certain answer to this question. It is more like “to each his own”. Every business is different and therefore the things that you consider important for your business may not be that important for some other, and vice-versa.
Still, if you are looking for a solution for a small number of users and with limited requirements, a VPN is simpler and more cost-efficient for you. But, if you want the solution for a larger workforce and have graphics processing or mobile requirements, then a VDI is more suited for your business.