Can cloud desktops make up where VPNs fall short?

Cloud desktops are gaining traction in the market as they demonstrate their ability to overcome standard VPN drawbacks.
23 September 2020

3 things businesses learned from remote working. Source: Shutterstock

The pandemic has led to the most widespread remote work experiment in history. Most companies seem to have fared well in the short term as they quickly gathered resources to enable remote work, but issues of sustainability, productivity, and security are still a concern.

Many organizations responded by expanding the use of their Virtual Private Network (VPN), where users leverage a secure tunnel from their PC to access the corporate datacenter. But VPNs aren’t always secure, and they can lead to bottlenecks that negatively affect performance. A better solution for enabling secure end-user computing is needed, and the answer resides in the cloud.

The drawbacks of VPNs: Quality and scalability

IT-provisioned IPSec VPN technology has long been a solution for enabling remote work, but it won’t suffice for the long term in today’s digital world. When users are in the office there is no need for a VPN, they are already on the corporate network. However, when they are traveling or need to work from home, employees can use their corporate-owned device to establish a secure network tunnel back through their VPN to the corporate data centers and then access the apps and data running on servers

The quality of this experience depends greatly on the latency and the bandwidth of the remote connection. People are able to work, though with a compromised experience that may reduce productivity

VPNs lack scalability, as well. VPNs were provisioned for the use case where just a handful of the workforce were working remotely. This means VPNs suffer from significant scalability and agility limitations. The technologies instead hinder enterprise growth in relation to what’s possible today with alternative approaches. In addition, the amount of infrastructure required to support 100% of your employees using the corporate stack of VPN concentrators for remote work is exceedingly expensive, and that is even if you can find inventory to order

VPNs also have security concerns. Updating and patching corporate PCs with the latest security updates is already hard to manage, even when the PCs are on-premises. IT and security leaders are acutely aware that a single unpatched PC can put the entire company in jeopardy. However, this risk increases by an order of magnitude when PCs are remote and connected to the data center via a VPN. The ability to patch PCs becomes more difficult because the PC may be offline, or it might not be connected to the corporate network. In addition, updates can be interrupted mid-stream more frequently when they are remote. Cloud VPN, also known as VPN-as-a-Service, has also entered the marketplace, but it still suffers from many of the same issues as traditional VPN.

Source: Shutterstock

Three advantages of cloud desktops

Cloud desktops, Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS), and cloud-based VDI are quickly gaining traction in the market as they demonstrate their ability to overcome standard VPN drawbacks. In fact, Gartner analysts predict the growth of 95.4% for DaaS by the end of 2020, rising to US$1.2 billion.  This stands to reason, as organizations continue to look for cost-effective ways to support the onslaught of remote workers and to make access to enterprise applications secure across multiple devices and locations.

Cloud desktops offer better security because the desktops are centralized in a secure cloud and data does not reside on endpoints. They often use encrypted proxied connections to ensure security, with no virtual network tunnel. VPNs create security concerns because they do not regulate access to an organization’s applications, but only to its network perimeter. Conversely, large-scale cloud services providers offer more options for secure access. ESG’s Are Desktops Doomed? report found that almost 8 in 10 organizations believe VDI or DaaS is more secure than traditional desktops, and 39% of respondents said DaaS improved security by keeping sensitive data off devices. The research firm also found that in terms of making the case for investment in VDI or DaaS, security and compliance was the second-highest justification, after greater IT efficiency.

Finally, cloud desktops are more scalable. Legacy VDI came with scalability problems, but today’s modern DaaS/cloud desktop options have vastly improved upon this. If an organization wants to add more users, it’s now possible to simply add more licenses. In most cases, users can be added in minutes, and everything scales automatically. Organizations can also expand their footprint to one or more new cloud regions and move some users to different cloud regions as needed. And once cloud set-up is complete, it is relatively easy and quick to expand to new use cases.

A more secure, cloud-based future

The great worldwide remote work experiment continues, with varying degrees of success. Organizations that already had the infrastructure in place had to address the challenge of scale, and those that had little to no remote work infrastructure had to cobble together a system. Companies that chose VPN have been disappointed by poor performance and scalability. And in the rush of change, security is often overlooked.

However, with the arrival of cloud desktops, organizations no longer have to accept the trade-off between robust security and performance. Cloud desktops provide a high-quality experience for uses at a lower cost than VPN, and with greater security and scalability.

Cloud-based VDI is a solution for both the short and long term since remote work is likely to remain a fixture of modern life – at least to some degree. With so many advantages over VPN, it makes business sense to choose and stick with cloud desktops, a more agile solution for an uncertain world.

The article was contributed by Brad Peterson, vice president of marketing, Workspot.