Does a mobile VDI platform make sense for your users?

Mobile VDI isn't always a good fit. Ask these five questions to determine whether a mobile VDI platform makes sense for your users.

Companies are increasingly recognizing the benefits of giving users anywhere/anytime access to corporate data and applications via a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). With VDI clients available for smartphones and tablet computers, it stands to reason that companies can multiply those benefits by extending their VDI platform to mobile devices. But just because you can deliver a mobile VDI platform, that doesn't necessarily mean...

you should.

Here are five questions you should ask to help determine whether a mobile VDI platform is a good fit for your users.

1. What are you trying to achieve: remote access or mobile access?

There is a difference between remote access and mobile access. "Remote access is about accessing your primary environment when you're not in the office, for example," according to Brian Madden, independent analyst and desktop virtualization expert. "Mobile access is about accessing your work applications and data from anywhere."

Your full- and part-time telecommuters require remote access. They may connect to the corporate network via a VDI platform, VPN or a Web application like GoToMyPC. But their computing devices, whether desktops or laptops, always access the network from outside the office, and usually from a consistent location, such as a home office.

These folks carry out normal day-to-day responsibilities, which may include creating documents and presentations, participating on conference calls, managing subordinates and strategizing with management. In short, they're doing everything they'd do inside the office—except for gossiping at the water cooler.

Your salespeople, executives and other frequent travelers require mobile access. These folks respond to email, review documents and check on the status of projects while on the move. These are largely tactical action items.

Note that while remote access can be mobile—when a user accesses network resources on a VPN deployed on a laptop, for example—mobile access is not always practical for the user who needs remote access.

2. What applications does your user need to access?

Mobile VDI, or VDI on a mobile device—be it a laptop, smartphone or tablet computer—gives users access to their entire desktop. This may not be necessary for your road warriors who only need to respond to email. If, on the other hand, the sales department accesses and updates a number of applications from the road—the CRM application, PowerPoint, Word and SharePoint, for example—it may make sense to grant them the full access that a VDI affords.

3. Do you have standardized mobile technologies, or do you have open smartphone and tablet policies?

This is where it can get tricky. Companies can save money by supporting a bring-your-own-device policy and deploying VDI on employees' personal devices. However, deploying VDI clients for multiple operating systems is a potential management headache.

Not all virtualization vendors offer a mobile version of their VDI clients, while others offer a mobile version for some mobile device OSes, but not others. One way to get around this is to use a client like that offered by 2X, which works on the iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets and is compatible with the major VDI platforms.

4. What is more important: efficiency or convenience?

The ability to access full network resources from a smartphone or tablet computer presents additional trade-offs for the user. The convenience of carrying a lightweight device comes at the cost of efficiency. Streaming a VDI over long distances and a public network can present latency issues. Loading a large document can even lock up the device and cause a session to crash. Then there's the need to adapt to a new way of working.

Virtualization vendors alter applications to make them touchscreen-friendly. Users must relearn where to find controls. They must also be comfortable typing on a smartphone's small keyboard or a touchscreen. For users who do a lot of typing, these may not be viable options.

5. Mobile VDI via tablet? Via smartphone? Or both?

Form factor is generally not an issue when connecting a tablet computer to applications built for desktops, but it does pose a problem when connecting a smartphone to these same applications.

There are commercial tools that allow you to modify corporate applications to accommodate the 3- to 4-inch display and make them available through a VDI. However, this extra step may not be worth the effort if users need access to multiple applications and are doing much more than viewing documents or data. Can you imagine editing a PowerPoint presentation on a BlackBerry?

Ultimately, you must understand exactly what network resources your users need to access and how they use them while traveling. Once you have this information, you can begin to determine what role a VDI platform will play in your mobile access strategy.

About the author

Crystal Bedell, ContributorCrystal Bedell is an award-winning writer and editor specializing in technology. She writes articles, tips and guides to help IT professionals evaluate technology, secure and modernize their IT infrastructure, solve business problems and prepare for IT certifications. She can be reached at cbedell@bedellcommunications.com.

This was first published in April 2011

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