VDI vs. VPN: The Pros and Cons for Remote Workers

April 28th, 2021


At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a sudden and widespread transition to remote work. Companies did what they could to keep their teams connected – to each other and to the software and data they need to do their jobs. Some leveraged virtual private networks (VPN) to enable remote work, and others upgraded to (or used existing) virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

A bit of a debate has emerged, however, over which is the better option for businesses with remote workers, so here are some of the pros and cons of each strategy, but first, definitions.

What are VDI and VPN?

  • Virtual desktop infrastructure refers to hosting desktop environments in the cloud. Desktop images (replicas of the contents of an employee’s actual desktop) run on virtual machines (VM), and remote workers can access them over the internet.
  • A virtual private network creates a private network over a public internet connection. It creates a data tunnel from an employee’s location to your business’ network, so your activity is hidden from other internet users and your service provider, and it masks IP addresses so what you do online is untraceable.

VDI Pros and Cons

There are a lot of good things to say about VDI, especially when remote employees need to access multiple software applications to do their jobs. It provides them with secure access, especially if you also implement single sign-on (SSO) and data encryption.

It also provides them with consistent experiences, no matter where they’re working. They just log in as usual, whether at home, in the office, or on the road, and can maintain their typical level of productivity.

It’s more than a pandemic stopgap, however. VDI has benefits even when your entire team is in the office. Because VDI runs in the cloud, there is less hardware required on-site. In fact, it may only take a thin client like a PC that’s no longer used. Also, VDI saves your IT team time and effort when desktop applications need to be patched or reconfigured. They can push updates to all users at once from a central server. Additionally, no corporate documents or data is ever saved to the employee’s computer –it’s stored in the cloud. If a device is ever lost or stolen, it wouldn’t lead to the fines, bad publicity and other pain related to a data breach.

VDI is also a logical step in the transition from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud, advancing a business’s digital transformation.

But there is a downside.

Depending on a remote worker’s internet service, VDI performance at home may not match the performance in the office where internet speed is adequate. Employees who need to use multiple monitors or spend hours each day on video conferencing may feel it the most. Also, the security baked into VDI solutions may lead to businesses dropping their guard and not ensuring the worker’s laptop or other device has endpoint protection.

Overall, moving from on-premises desktops to VDI is a big change. It takes time and investment to deploy – but you can ensure a smooth transition if you work with a cloud provider with VDI expertise.

VPN Pros and Cons

Of all the businesses who turned to VDI during the pandemic, probably more turned to VPN to give their remote employees secure access to the business network. VPN solutions are versatile – you can use it with any device running any operating system, and it’s quick to deploy. If workers have company-owned laptops, they can just take them home and start working. VPN is also secure, encrypting data in transit and requiring user authentication before anyone can gain access.

Of the two options, VPN is the less expensive. Businesses may even be able to use a free trial to ensure it’s the solution for them before paying for a subscription.

But, like VDI, VPN has some drawbacks.

Some VPNs are slow. The user’s internet service speed and the geographic distance from the user to the service can contribute to the problem, putting the brakes on productivity. Moreover, some VPNs aren’t optimized for speed – so it’s vital for the business to choose carefully.

Security is another issue to consider. The service itself is protected, but all applications are installed on the users’ laptops or devices, and all work takes place there. If a laptop is lost or stolen, so is the data. Moreover, if you don’t issue company-owned devices, malware on the employee’s home computer could find its way into the corporate network when it’s connected.

VPN may also make more work for IT. Patching requires a plan that ensures employees have their laptops on and connected at a scheduled time, and the business network may be overburdened by having all devices connected at once. And, because all applications run on the devices, IT will need to install them and update them for new users or when the software stack changes.

Your Choice

As you review the pros and cons of VDI and VPN, you can see that there won’t be a clear choice for every business. But there will be a best choice for your specific operation.

Consider the applications your employees use, the computing performance their jobs require, the bandwidth remote users will require, your IT department’s workload, and costs. You also need to consider any regulations governing your industry or business that may impact your decision.

It’s a lot to think about, but it’s not necessary to make the decision alone.

Virtual Systems is here to help. Contact us to talk through the VPN vs. VDI debate.

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