When employees work remotely, they often resort to their personal computers and other devices. This shift introduces challenges in terms of software installation, hardware configuration, and the safeguarding of corporate data.
The widespread adoption of remote work has laid bare various issues related to business technology infrastructure. The surge in remote employees has exerted an overwhelming strain on the IT infrastructure of many companies.
Why Businesses Need Remote Work Tools
Enabling remote work for employees has transformed from an option to a necessity. Even for companies that maintain traditional office setups, there are tangible benefits, including cost savings through reduced reliance on in-house IT infrastructure, the implementation of advanced information security practices, and centralized management of digital services.
In times of crisis, remote work offers added advantages. Businesses can maintain uninterrupted operations, even in scenarios involving employee mobility restrictions or unforeseen weather events.
Although many companies had previously adopted server-based solutions for remote work, these often encountered significant drawbacks. Notably, these drawbacks encompassed weak information security measures and connectivity issues for remote workstations.
Remote Access Technologies for Employees
For employees to effectively perform their tasks, a range of programs and applications is essential. These can be installed directly on their computers or laptops, or the software can be hosted on servers or in the cloud. The latter approach is generally preferred, as it grants access exclusively to authorized employees and ensures vital safeguards for corporate data.
Currently, three primary technologies enable the establishment of remote working environments for company personnel:
1. Web Services (Cloud Storage + Office Applications)
This represents the most cost-effective and straightforward implementation method but also the least secure option. Certain companies may only require cloud storage solutions like OneDrive or Dropbox, coupled with office applications such as MS Office Online or Google Drive. These applications can be accessed with a personal computer. However, it's crucial to recognize that this solution may compromise security and might be insufficient for managing extensive tasks within larger organizations.
- Convenient access to cloud-stored files via links.
- Real-time collaborative document editing.
- Support for collaborative work on documents.
- Access to files from various devices and operating systems.
- The ability to synchronize cloud storage with local folders. <
- Inadequate information security measures.
- Limited functionalities of web-based office applications.
- Risk of corporate data exposure.
- Insufficient capabilities for handling complex tasks.
2. Virtual Desktops (VDI), Including "Desktop as a Service" (DaaS)
Implementing Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a more time-consuming, complex, and costly endeavor, but it delivers a superior level of information security.
VDI stands as the most convenient technology for facilitating remote work among employees. Leveraging a dedicated management server on a virtualization platform, virtual desktops are created, each featuring its own operating system, along with applications or a customized working environment tailored to specific employees.
These virtual desktops remain isolated from other users, ensuring the protection of the hosted information. Failures occurring within one virtual machine have no bearing on the tasks of other employees. This approach is widely adopted by large companies due to its hallmark features: robust security, centralized management, and control over IT infrastructure expenses.
- Scalability options.
- Secure data transmission channels.
- High application performance.
- Flexible application customization for individual users.
- Minimal hardware requirements (basic computers and mobile devices suffice).
- Demands a potent and reliable communication channel.
- High cost and technological complexity relative to alternative remote access methods for staff.
3. Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and VPN (with Terminal Access)
This represents the "golden mean" among remote access technologies. It's more resource-intensive compared to utilizing cloud file servers and necessitates additional equipment like servers and data storage systems. However, it offers an elevated level of information security. Meanwhile, setting up an RDS service is more cost-effective and straightforward than implementing VDI.
With RDS, employees can connect to an office desktop via the internet and execute tasks using applications and data accessible within the office network. By deploying a private VPN network, a company can provide continuous remote access to its corporate resources. For critical company applications, using a terminal server might prove the optimal solution.
Applications and programs are hosted on a single server, with distinct instances of programs launched for different users. These applications operate within separate sessions but share the same operating system. Consequently, if one user experiences an application failure affecting the operating system, it can disrupt the work of other employees concurrently using it.
- Secure data transmission channels.
- Full functionality of applications via the terminal.
- Scalability in tandem with business expansion.
- The possibility of configuring VPN connections by in-house IT specialists.
- Additional measures required to comply with regulations (e.g., 152-FZ in Russia).
- Users must operate from trusted devices.
- Risks of corporate data leakage.
- Users don't receive dedicated resources for their work.
- Incompatibility with certain applications (e.g., CAD systems and graphic editors).
- Potential complexities in configuring office equipment.
THE PRINCIPAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN RDS AND VDI TECHNOLOGIES LIES IN THE LEVEL OF ISOLATION THEY AFFORD TO APPLICATIONS AND WORKING ENVIRONMENTS OF DIFFERENT EMPLOYEES
VDI offers separate operating systems and complete desktop environments akin to standard desktop computers. This grants users more privileges, including administrator rights, while mitigating the risk of disrupting a shared server, as can occur with RDS.
Application failures that affect the operating system will exclusively impact one virtual machine, leaving the work of other employees unaffected. Furthermore, terminal access utilizes a server operating system on which some programs cannot be installed, whereas VDI technology permits the use of regular user OS environments.
How Virtual Workstations Operate
Virtual workstations, whether accessed through terminal connections or VDI, provide the capability to deploy individual applications or create remote virtual computers equipped with all the essential software. However, when utilizing RDS technology, it's feasible to establish complete desktop environments, albeit with certain constraints tied to the shared server operating system. In both scenarios, all operations are executed on the server, where user inputs are transmitted, and in return, users receive real-time updates on their screens.
Employees can initiate applications or log into the server from any device, seamlessly interacting with an interface that mirrors a desktop or application residing on their personal computer, laptop, or tablet.
On the employee's physical device, only the interface is visible; all processing and program execution occur on the server. A dedicated management server within the virtualization platform generates virtual machines based on pre-configured images that come equipped with pre-installed VDI agents and associated settings.
Following this, final customization of virtual desktops takes place, including adjustments to time settings for users in different time zones. Furthermore, it's possible to create clusters of virtual machines using diverse templates tailored to specific user categories. For instance, managers may have access to an office suite, whereas engineers may require specialized technical software. Individual access levels can be configured for each group of employees.
Users can establish connections to remote desktops via dedicated software or an HTML5 web client. Once authenticated, they gain access to a list of resources available to them.
To facilitate data transmission between employee devices and servers, specialized protocols are employed. Companies providing VDI software, such as VMware, Citrix, and others, frequently rely on proprietary protocols that are exclusively compatible with their software. Conversely, alternative solutions often make use of an open implementation of the RDP protocol for data transmission, which proves advantageous for those developing custom remote workstations or utilizing VDI cloud services.
VDI can be harnessed in 2 primary manners:
- 1. Assigned to Specific Employees: Here, a virtual workstation is dedicated to an individual employee, preserving all their files and settings across sessions. This approach ensures that the user consistently connects to the same virtual desktop, guaranteeing continuity.
- 2. Open for General Use: Employees work on any available virtual machine. After completing their tasks, data isn't retained on that particular desktop, reverting it to its original state. This method is particularly convenient in situations involving substitute employees, obviating the need to allocate a distinct virtual machine to each.
VDI workstations can be configured to accommodate both remote and in-office employees, enabling them to access these resources via their work computers or laptops.
3 Approaches to Deploying Remote Workstations:
- In-House VDI Implementation: This necessitates the installation and configuration of requisite software. In such cases, the company takes on the responsibility of maintaining the server, configuring software, procuring licenses, and ensuring data security.
- Cloud Server Rental and Workstation Creation: Here, a cloud provider handles essential server updates and data backups. Companies are relieved of the burden of software and hardware maintenance. Furthermore, scaling up rented resources as needed is straightforward.
- Virtual Workstation as a Service from a Cloud Provider: In this scenario, companies not only lease a server but also receive a fully prepared service complete with pre-configured virtual machine images, requiring only customization to suit their specific requirements and the installation of necessary software.
Base images for VDI setup can be supplied by providers, but you also have the option to create them in-house by adding the requisite programs and configurations.
Benefits of Utilizing Remote Workstations
Deploying remote workstations may initially appear expensive, particularly if done in-house, involving the procurement, configuration, and maintenance of hardware and software. However, in the long run, remote workstations often prove more cost-effective than acquiring and supporting powerful computers for each employee. Utilizing a pre-configured virtual workstation only requires an average laptop or tablet. All programs are either installed on the server or operate in the cloud, reducing the strain on the device. Additionally, access can be easily configured, even from smartphones or tablets.
Enhanced Security and Control
You maintain complete control over the virtual machine, enabling you to monitor installed programs, network connections, file transfers, and more. This sets it apart from employees' personal devices, where they have more freedom. By implementing additional settings, you can restrict actions such as copying files to external drives or taking screenshots, thus elevating the level of corporate data security.
Remote workstations can be swiftly created, removed, or duplicated as needed. For instance, if you've set up a virtual machine for an accountant once, duplicating it for other employees with a single click is a straightforward process. Setting up remote workstations for new hires is equally hassle-free.
Dynamic Resource Allocation
Conventional desktop computers lack the capacity to dynamically allocate resources; they come with fixed specifications that aren't easily adjustable. In contrast, virtual machines offer resource allocation flexibility according to employees' requirements. For example, a designer might only need a few gigabytes of RAM for a chat application, but when running resource-intensive software like AutoCAD, they'll require significantly more resources.
Efficient Software Updates
Updating the software on remote workstations doesn't necessitate manual updates on individual computers. You can initiate updates on the server, affecting all virtual machines simultaneously. Managing user profiles in VDI entails intricate technical processes, but it offers a significant advantage by not only organizing desktops but also providing control over the user environment. This includes configuring installed programs, user data retention, enforcing additional settings, and even managing digital signatures, culminating in a comprehensive user experience.
The selection of a specific approach to remote work organization hinges on the company's requirements, budget constraints, and information security considerations.
Often, a strategic combination of various technologies that align with business objectives and available resources proves to be the most effective approach. This approach can also serve as a pivotal step in the company's digital evolution and the cultivation of a digital workplace culture.