VDI: The answer to keeping tablets safe in the workplace

Tablets are everywhere. The question isn't whether to use them, but how to secure them in the workplace. VDI is the answer.



My dentist punctuated the bad news by using a tablet to show me the x-ray. I’d like to say the coolness of using the tablet offset the pain, but I still asked for a shot of local anesthetic.

I was feeling much better as I left the dentist office — the anesthetic finally started working. Being hungry, I decided to get some lunch. I knew the numbness would be a challenge, so I went to a restaurant known for its excellent soups. As I sat down, I picked up a tablet looking to see which soup looked the best. When I decided, I placed my order using the same tablet.  

The soup and service were great, so I made sure to give the waiter a good tip when I paid my bill —using the tablet. Next, I was off to my afternoon consulting gig. As I walked into the conference room with the CEO, I noticed he had a new tablet. I smiled, already knowing how this meeting was going to turn out. The topic to be discussed: do tablets make sense for their company.

The debate is over

The debate about tablets making sense in the workplace is over. They’re everywhere. The onus is now on IT departments to figure out how to keep an already fragile company infrastructure safe with the influx of tablets — personal and company-owned. The learning curve is especially steep when personal tablets are allowed, each with its own idiosyncrasies.

Is there an answer?

Lots of people and companies say they have the answer. For example, MobileDevice Management technologies (MDM) have been proclaimed the way to control mobile devices attaching to the company network. MDM is not a panacea, and there are several seemingly insurmountable hurdles.

Knowing that, I’d like to discuss an approach that gets past those hurdles by using proven technology that’s already hard at work in homes and offices throughout IT-land.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

It’s called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). I was happy to see that TechRepublic Senior Editor Teena Hammond referred to VDI in VDI growth fueled by need for flexibility, mobility. Where she explains how VDI has proven to be an effective method to secure desktops.

IT departments — by applying VDI technology to tablets — have a fighting chance against most if not all known BYOD technical challenges. VDI does that by forcing tablets to use a controlled desktop environment when they are connected to the company’s IT infrastructure.

Another plus is the removal of the usually overlooked legal issues I discussed in Security policies must address legal implications of BYOD when VDI technology is employed, simply because company data does not reside on the tablet.

How does VDI work on tablets?

VDI for mobile devices uses two approaches:

  • Client-based mobile VDI: This approach uses an installed client on the tablet. The client creates a virtual session between the tablet and the company’s servers, giving the illusion of residing in the normal work-computing environment.
  • Browser-based mobile VDI: If there is a compatibility problem between the VDI client application and the tablet’s operating system, the browser-based version will work. All the tablet needs is an installed mobile web browser.

One of the nice things about using a virtual desktop is user familiarity. If the office environment is Windows-based, but the employee prefers an Apple product, mobile VDI allows the employee to have the best of both worlds. Some additional benefits:

  • VDI for mobile devices allows the user to access personal data, work data, and the two do not intermix.
  • Using virtual environments eliminates the need to install business-related applications on every tablet, especially useful when business-specific apps are not ported to mobile operating systems.

Still not the full answer

Mobile VDI comes close, very close to solving the security and technical challenges that have stalled IT departments from blessing the use of tablets. However, I would be remiss by not acknowledging that there are challenges.

For example, Mobile VDI is completely reliant on having a connection back to the company’s servers. A more pressing challenge will be the increased demands, as mentioned by TechRepublic’s Scott Matteson in this article, on the company’s internal network and Internet portal because of the additional bandwidth required by devices using VDI technology.

As I alluded to in the beginning, tablets are here to stay, and they should. I would be lost without mine. We just have to make sure we are not opening yet another door, making it easier for bad guys to sneak-in.

If you are interested in more details, this white paper sponsored by CDWG.com is a good resource.