Last week we discussed how a virtual working environment can help improve end-user flexibility and and the same time increase control for the IT department. There are many reasons why an increasing number of organisations choose virtualized desktop environments, from increased flexibility for users and business processes, to reduced costs for IT administration and hardware. Virtualization can also be the first important step towards improved IT security.
Four advantages of virtualization
Reduced costs for IT administration
One of the recognized benefits of a virtualized IT environment is the ability to reduce effort and thereby the operational costs for IT administration and support. Since a virtual desktop environment means that a single image and version of applications and operating systems run centrally for the entire company, there is less pressure on the IT environment to handle different combinations of operating systems, applications and terminals. Since different applications and platforms are isolated from each other and the local system environment, there is also a reduced need to customize and test various services with each other to ensure compatibility.
With fewer installations of each application, the risk that errors will be multiplied by the number of employees in the organization disappears. Should anything go wrong and an update needs to be backed up, this can be handled once, in one central location. Finally, centralized handling and administration minimizes the need for IT personnel to visit each individual employee, which also helps contribute to reduced operating costs.
Increased flexibility and shorter Time-To-Market
Thanks to central management, it is often much faster to introduce new versions and upgrades of platforms and applications in a virtual desktop environment than in the traditional client-server environment. A new client can be added in just a couple of minutes, enabling employees to get started with their work immediately. An organization with hundreds or even thousands of employees can upgrade its operating system or application platform within a few hours instead of the weeks or months it used to take.
Through a smoother and more effective introduction of new IT services in the organization, virtualization not only helps lower costs, but also helps provide employees with access to new tools faster than ever before. This increases the potential for improved productivity and quickly taking advantage of new business opportunities.
Reduced equipment and energy costs
Since applications and operating systems are run centrally and then streamed to users, the need for local processing power is reduced. When all the processing power is located centrally, it provides an opportunity for rationalization in terms of both hardware cost and power consumption. When using thin clients, which consume significantly less energy than “fat” ones, the organization will begin to see even further energy savings.
Greater flexibility for users
In a virtual desktop environment, the end user is no longer dependent on a personal or dedicated terminal being available in order for them to perform their job. Employees can access their complete desktop “on-demand”, regardless of which machine they use: a PC at the office, a laptop or notebook at home, or a completely external computer at a customer’s or partner’s office. The user experience remains the same. End user flexibility increases dramatically, giving the end user the opportunity to choose when, where and how to work. Virtualization can thereby also offer the flexibility demanded in dynamic work environments such as hospitals or retail businesses.
Virtualization boosts IT security
We began by noting how one of today’s greatest IT challenges is related to the need for qualified IT security in an increasingly mobile and flexible world. A virtual desktop can help reduce costs and increase user flexibility. It can also help lay the foundation for increased IT security, without compromising on accessibility and user-friendliness.
Traditionally, corporate information and business support applications were distributed to all employee terminals and stored locally. Distributed and locally stored data increases vulnerability and the risk of hacking, which leads to relaxed security. With virtual desktops, all information and applications are instead stored centrally. This improves the chances of protecting data, making backups and restoring lost or damaged information.
Applications and services in the virtual IT environment are made available for the organization’s end users based on predefined user profiles and central policy decisions. When a work session ends and the virtual desktop shuts down, the session and all its information goes back to the central, protected data center. A desktop that is shut down cannot be infected by malicious code. In a virtual work environment, where all applications and data are stored centrally, a lost or stolen laptop no longer poses a major security risk.
A virtual work environment can thus become an important cornerstone for protecting business-critical or integrity-protected data in all types of organizations: healthcare, the financial sector, private businesses and public agencies. However, for a complete security solution, protecting information and data in a qualified manner is not enough. Ensuring that the right individuals have access to the data is just as important. The solution must therefore also be able to identify and authenticate the end user in a consistent and uniform manner, regardless of where they are located or what terminal they are using.
In this regard, the combination of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and smart cards is a safe, cost-effective and user-friendly alternative.
In our next and final article in the series we will take a closer look at the benefits of virtual working environments and smart card-based IT security. If you want to read more about smart card-based security in virtual desktop environments already now you can also download our whitepaper Security and virtual desktop environments.
SecMaker is the Nordic region’s leading supplier of smart card-based security solutions to companies, public agencies and organizations. If you want to know more about smart card based IT-security you are welcome to contact us.