THE MAGAZINE

Virtually at Work

By Holly Gilbert

Companies must meet the technological demands of telecommuting workers and those taking advantage of “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies while still finding ways to secure corporate data. One option is a virtualized infrastructure for telecommuters—one in which their entire work desktop environment is offered to them remotely.

In essence, a virtual desktop environment separates the applications associated with a computer’s operating system from the physical device itself, allowing the components of that operating system to be accessed on any device with an Internet connection, such as a tablet, thin client, or smartphone. Rather than data being stored on the device, it resides in a cloud computing environment, such as the company’s data center or a public cloud.

“Virtual desktop basically says, ‘Keep all the information in one place, keep it secure, keep it safe…make sure that access is limited,’” said Donald Parente, director of technology strategy-chief architect at AT&T Federal Solutions. He says the virtual desktop is “like a window into the environment you’re working on. You’re typing here on your iPhone, but it’s really being typed into a session that’s hosted somewhere else. That’s kind of a difficult concept to grasp, but that’s essentially what’s going on with virtualization. The app is not running on your device; you’re simply looking into the app from your device,” said Parente, who spoke at the Mobile Work Exchange Town Hall in Washington, D.C.

Among the places using this approach is the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). “[M]any of our employees are mobile based on what their work is,” said Darren Ash, chief information officer, who also spoke at the event. He explained that the virtual desktop solution is ideal for NRC employees who have to do work at various nuclear plants far from the main offices.

While the approach appears similar to the concept of Virtual Private Network (VPN), a remote access option preferred by many enterprises, Parente noted that users connecting over VPN may experience latency with what he called “chatty” applications, or applications that are database transactional in nature.
 

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