I’ve been hearing a lot about Virtual Desktops lately (VDIs), and am struggling to figure out how interested you all really are in using them.

For those of you who don’t track these things, a VDI is an application of virtualization where you run a bunch of desktop images on a central server, and employees or external users connect via secure clients from whatever system they have handy.

From a security standpoint this can be pretty sweet. Depending on how you configure them, VDIs can be on-demand, non-persistent, and totally locked down. We can use all sorts of whitelisting and monitoring technologies to protect them – even the persistent ones. There are also implementations for deploying individual apps instead of entire desktops. And we can support access from anywhere, on any device.

I use a version of this myself sometimes, when I spin up a virtual Windows instance on AWS to perform some research or testing I don’t want touching my local machine.

Virtual desktops can be a good way to allow untrusted systems access to hardened resources, although you still need to worry about compromise of the endpoint leading to lost credentials and screen scraping/keyboard sniffing. But there are technologies (admittedly not perfect ones) to further reduce those risks.

Some of the vendors I talk with on the security side expect to see broad adoption, but I’m not convinced. I can’t blame them – I do talk to plenty of security departments which are drooling over these things, and plenty of end user organizations which claim they’ll be all over them like a frat boy on a fire hydrant. My gut feeling, though, is that virtual desktop use will grow, but be constrained to particular scenarios where these things make sense.

I know what you’re thinking, “no sh* Sherlock”, but we tend to cater to a … more discerning reader. I have spoken with both user and vendor organizations which expect widespread and pervasive deployment.

So I need your opinions. Here are the scenarios I see:

  • To support remote access. Probably ephemeral desktops. Different options for general users and IT admin.
  • For guest/contractor/physician access to a limited subset of apps. This includes things like docs connecting to check lab results.
  • Call centers and other untrusted internal users.
  • As needed to support legacy apps on tablets.
  • For users you want to let use unsupported hardware, but probably only for a subset of your apps.

That covers a fair number of desktops, but only a fraction of what some other analyst types are calling for.

What do you think? Are your companies really putting muscle behind virtual desktops on a large scale? I think I know the answer, but want a sanity check for my ego here.