Jun 18, 2021, Consulting, Infrastructure

VDI – Virtual Desktop Infrastructure in a public cloud

Andrzej Szczygioł Azure Cloud Engineer

Today, I’d like to talk a bit more about a VDI solution based on a public cloud. I’m sure that most of you have already heard the term VDI – Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Solutions of this type have been on the market for quite some time. However, they were usually implemented based on a client’s own infrastructure (in his own Data Center). Before we get deeper into the topic, let’s explain the “classic” model of VDI.

Classic on site model of VDI

In a classic model of VDI, the whole physical infrastructure necessary to launch such a service is located in a client’s Data Center. It consists of physical servers (hosts), network switches, and storage. It also includes a hypervisor – providing a virtualization layer – which launches virtual machines with desktop OS, such as Windows 10. Access to virtual instances is provided by using a local network or VPN. We can connect to a Windows 10 virtual instance with any device that supports the applied access protocol, e.g. RDP. It means that we can use the Windows system and related applications by connecting from devices that work on any operating system (MacOS, Linux, Android, etc.).

VDI main advantages

Here are some of the most substantial advantages of VDI:

  • Providing a high mobility for users – they can use their virtual desktop from any place with access to the internet.
  • Allowing an app and a desktop to “follow” a user, e.g. a person starts work in the office, and finishes it at home.
  • Standardization of virtual workstations and installed applications.
  • Central configuration management – both OS and application in one place.
  • Data on virtual stations are processed on servers in a Data Center, and not on a user’s ones.
  • Station’s and data’s backup is performed centrally in a Data Center. 
  • In case of a single host failure, a physical hosts cluster is provided by a high accessibility of virtual desktops.  
  • A possibility to extend the lifetime of an IT equipment used for connecting to the VDI infrastructure. Such equipment is used “solely” to display an active session image. 

On site VDI solution problems 

One of the biggest disadvantages of VDI is a high entry threshold. A client who plans its implementation in his Data Center has to bear the costs of purchasing many physical servers (hosts) on which the hypervisor will work. A company needs to provide an adequate infrastructure as well – network switches, VPN gates, etc. Apart from that, it also has to invest in a high-performance storage and administrators with proper competencies to maintain the infrastructure. 

VDI in a public cloud to the rescue

Such a service eliminates the biggest VDI flaw – the high entry threshold – maintaining all of its advantages mentioned above. It is offered by the largest public cloud providers like Azure with its Azure Virtual Desktop. Using the cloud service allows generating a suitable configuration within a few minutes. The process of creating the environment based on our configuration will take from several to several dozen minutes, depending on the type and size of virtual machines we plan to use. Notice that we can use not only standard virtual machines, but also the special ones that use dedicated graphics cards for virtual environments. Thanks to such virtual machines, we’re able to launch applications that require efficient graphics cards, e.g. systems like CAD/CAM, in the Azure Virtual Desktop environment. 

The undoubted advantage of Azure Virtual Desktop is an option to pay only for environments that were actually used – a Pay as You Go model – which helps save additional costs, especially in case of graphics stations used only a few days in a month.

Is VDI as a service worth your attention?

I’d say a definite YES! Especially considering the current situation, due to the  Covid-19 pandemic, many companies went fully remote. And it seems that this model will stay afloat, even when the pandemic is over. 

Here are some of the typical scenarios of using VDI in a cloud:

  • Remote work in a safe and centralized environment.
  • Access to older applications requiring specific configuration which is often impossible to achieve directly on users’ workstations.
  • Varied training or test environments.
  • Possibility to prepare virtual desktops in various geographical locations so they’re as near to the users as possible.
  • Option of using the most efficient and professional workstations only when it’s necessary. We pay for actual use of computing power.