The scalability of cloud-based remote working: VPNs, VDI, and desktop as a service

Amitabh Sinha has more than 20 years of experience across enterprise software, end user computing, mobile, and database software. Amitabh co-founded Workspot with Puneet Chawla and Ty Wang in August 2012. Prior to Workspot, Amitabh was the general manager for enterprise desktops and Apps at Citrix Systems. In his five years at Citrix, Amitabh was vice president of product management for XenDesktop and vice president of engineering for the Advanced Solutions Group. Amitabh has a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a massive shift to remote work. It is clear that, going forward, a much larger percentage of workers will work remotely. Organisations that deployed quick, short-term solutions for remote workers must now consider what will serve business goals and employees alike for the long term. Flexibility, security, performance and scalability are paramount in these uncertain times.

The scalability problem with VDI and VPNs

Giving employees secure access to applications and data is a pressing need for most organisations right now. Previous solutions to support remote work included on-premises VDI and VPNs, which were typically provisioned for five percent of people to work remotely.

Let’s look first at IPSec VPN technologies. For the vast majority of the time, end users would connect from the office. However, if they were traveling or needed to work from home, employees could use their corporate-owned device to establish a secure network tunnel back through a VPN to the corporate datacentre, and then access their applications and data. Now that the majority of people are working from home, IT has struggled to scale the VPN infrastructure to support the significant increase in users.

The quality of user experience depends greatly on the amount of traffic, as well as the latency and the bandwidth of the remote connection. Further, if access to common SaaS applications is funnelled through the datacentre, it could result in substantially slower performance and reduced end user productivity. Lastly, many organisations are concerned about the security of VPNs – it gives malware a direct route into the data centre and cannot ensure that sensitive or regulated data does not get copied to endpoints.

Alternatively, some organisations chose to expand their use of VDI. Workers could use their personal or corporate-owned devices to gain access to Windows desktops or to applications running in a datacentre. The reality is that VDI suffers from significant scalability and agility limitations. Adding infrastructure to support additional users is expensive and complex to deploy, especially when it is unclear how many users will remain remote once shelter in place restrictions are lifted. From an end user perspective, performance can be terrible. VDI in most cases was designed for occasional access to applications – not an eight-hour workday.

Compared to what’s possible today, VPN and VDI technologies stymie enterprise growth. Neither of these technologies was designed to address the widespread work-from-home scenarios companies are experiencing today – and for the foreseeable future. Today’s IT teams require an end user computing solution that supports the ability to work from anywhere, with little or no intervention from IT. It should be a seamless transition that happens at a moment’s notice; people should be able to simply go home and pick up work where they left off.

The future is cloud-first

In this cloud era, IT leaders have two new solution categories to consider that replace VPN and VDI:

  • A SaaS equivalent of VDI, not an MSP hosted solution – Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solutions. These options make it simple and elastic for IT to deliver virtual desktops to end users. By taking advantage of service availability in cloud regions all over the world, IT can dramatically simplify their overhead and processes, plus reduce latency and deliver better end user performance
  • Optimised for the SaaS and cloud era Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solutions. They use a combination of techniques to solve the security problems mentioned above by sending SaaS traffic directly to the vendor and making Zero Trust end points possible.

Changes to the timeline

Of the 317 CFOs and finance leaders Gartner surveyed recently, 74% of them plan to shift “at least five percent of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19.” Nearly one-quarter (23%) plan to convert at least 20% of previously on-site employees into permanent telecommuters. Twitter and Square are just two of the companies that have announced their employees can work remotely forever.

Now that the quarantine situation has stretched into months, organisations must examine the sustainability of their plans. Most companies have improvised solutions that addressed the immediate transition to remote work but are beginning the search for more cost-effective and secure long-term solutions.

Planning for an uncertain future

Organisations are going to need solutions that enable remote work, for the foreseeable future. These solutions must be scalable, flexible and reliable in order to serve the needs of the organisation and its remote workers in both the short and long term. VDI and VPN are legacy solutions that were never intended to support a large contingent of remote workers, which makes them unsuitable for today’s needs.

More modern solutions such as DaaS and ZTNA offer much-needed scalability at an affordable cost. They not only help during times of uncertainty but can set you up for success and growth well into the future.

Photo by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their experiences and use-cases? Attend the Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.

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One comment on “The scalability of cloud-based remote working: VPNs, VDI, and desktop as a service

  1. Darren King on

    An interesting article on the scalability of cloud-based remote working. The pandemic has clearly forced a massive shift to remote work, resulting in an increased demand for cloud-based services.


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