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Mobile desktop virtualization benefits and challenges: Security vs. ease of use

Delivering virtual desktops to mobile devices can improve employee productivity and keep data safe, but it also raises some questions around usability. It’s important to weigh these mobile desktop virtualization benefits and

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challenges before moving ahead with a project.

In an effort to exert some level of control over personal smartphones and tablets in the enterprise, some organizations turn to desktop virtualization. Their mobile users connect securely to in-house servers that run the operating systems and applications they need to conduct business. And the desktop virtualization client on the mobile device facilitates connectivity to these network resources, rendering the virtual desktop on the mobile device. One of the biggest desktop virtualization benefits is that all OSes, apps and data are stored within a secure data center, instead of on the mobile devices themselves -- a major selling point, especially for security-minded organizations such as the Department of Defense (DOD).

The DOD wants to let U.S. forces take advantage of mobile computing, but the risks of doing so run high. Lives would be at stake if a device fell into the wrong hands. Department officials believe they have found an answer in desktop virtualization, for all the reasons stated above. If the DOD’s devices see mobile desktop virtualization benefits, enterprises might be able to as well. But first, carefully weigh these desktop virtualization pros and cons.

Mobile desktop virtualization benefits

As anyone in IT knows, implementing mobile devices in the enterprise presents big risks. If a device is lost, stolen or compromised in some other way, data that resides on the device is vulnerable to cybercriminals and anyone else intent on getting at sensitive information.

Enterprise mobile device security has to be a top priority if your IT department supports a force of mobile workers. There are desktop virtualization benefits in this area, because virtual desktops keep corporate data stored in the data center. Yet virtualization offers much more than just data protection. For instance, it lets IT manage operating systems and applications centrally, and it supports access from a wide range of devices in any location with network connectivity.

Mobile desktop virtualization benefits users, who can also get their work environments up and running within minutes. After downloading and installing the appropriate client app from their device’s app store, all they have to do is launch it and enter their credentials. As a result, IT expends fewer resources to deploy and support applications. Desktop virtualization benefits legacy apps, as well: Device- and OS-compatibility issues are minimized, which lengthens the lifespan of the apps.


Challenges of virtual desktops

There are many mobile desktop virtualization benefits, but there are challenges as well. To begin with, the mobile device must have the network connectivity necessary to support the continual exchange of data required by the virtual client. Without a steady Wi-Fi or 4G connection, the user cannot access critical data. Some virtualization technologies support offline operations to a limited degree, but that support is by no means a replacement for live data. Limitations on connectivity can translate to limitations on productivity.

Screen size and resolution issues pose another challenge, especially on smartphones which have tiny monitors and a small workspace. Screen size is less of a concern for tablet users, though they must still contend with the differences in the native screen resolutions between the source OS and the destination devices, which can make some things hard to see or control via touch gestures.

Add to these difficulties the fact that many applications rely on extensive mouse actions, which are hard to replicate with your fingers, and the user’s experience becomes one of frustration and inefficiency. And if certain tasks require extensive keyboard input, productivity also suffers, unless the user happens to have a Bluetooth keyboard.

Applications optimized for a desktop OS may be accessible on a mobile device via desktop virtualization, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily usable. Even if there are no screen, mouse or keyboard problems, the devices themselves must still have adequate CPU and memory resources to run the client and render virtualized applications.

Another consideration IT has to take into account is that server and network resources must be able to support numerous devices connecting into the network at the same time.

After weighing the desktop virtualization pros and cons for mobile devices, you might find that it will only work for certain types of users or certain types of apps. Still, it’s worth serious consideration.

This was first published in January 2012

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