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The Work from Home Dilemma: VDI or Laptop?

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency of enabling employee productivity from any location and any device. To ensure business continuity, enterprises are transitioning employees to work from home (WFH).

This shift is much more than a passing trend, and remote work will remain in force long after the health crisis subsides. Smaller offices and travel restrictions will be commonplace, employees will be divided into silos, and organizations will improve their readiness for disasters and pandemics. The enablement of remote work models provides huge advantages in terms of business continuity, productivity, and operational efficiency going forward.

Remote Work Without the Pain

Work-from-home presents numerous challenges for today’s IT teams. The immediate need is to support secure remote file access. This is particularly challenging in traditional industries, such as construction, government, and manufacturing, where cloud adoption is still not prevalent. A common solution in these segments has been to set up VPNs for WFH users to securely connect to an office file server.

However, due to the high latencies and asymmetric broadband connections found in most homes (upload speed is often 10 times slower than download speed), accessing files this way is typically a clunky, slow process that hampers user productivity.

For productive work from home, enterprises need a way to extend corporate file systems to remote users with LAN-speed performance while respecting the corporate security policies.

Companies are adopting two approaches to address this challenge: VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) and physical laptops.

VDI or Laptop: What’s the Best Approach?

As usual, it depends. Different enterprises have different requirements and priorities when it comes to performance, productivity and security. Based on what we’ve learned working with enterprise customers across myriad verticals, here’s a high-level summary of the main advantages and drawbacks of VDI and laptops:

VDI Pros

  • Great protection against data leakage – files never reach the employee’s uncontrolled premises
  • The computer can be always at a controlled and known state, which is essential in certified environments as well as reducing IT burden
  • Employees can bring their own devices (BYOD) – VDI does not rely heavily on secure configuration of the endpoint device
  • Endpoint devices are easy to replace in the event of a failure, and with zero data loss
  • VDIs are attached to the corporate or cloud network with superfast backbone connectivity

VDI Cons

  • Users require continuous, low latency connectivity to a VDI datacenter. Anything more than 15ms latency and your RDP (remote desktop protocol) session feels sluggish.
  • Users are limited in their choice of remote work locations, and typically will need to work from the home office

Laptop Pros

  • Users can work from anywhere – even the beach
  • Users can work without being affected by low bandwidth and high latency connections as long as needed are cached locally
  • Ideal for users who need a high performance dedicated processor and memory for ‘heavy’ processes like video editing, software development, etc.

Laptop Cons

  • Your organization’s sensitive files reside in an uncontrolled location, meaning there’s higher potential for data leakage
  • Keeping a fleet of laptops updated and secured is a difficult and expensive IT task
  • Employees have more control and, by having physical access, can potentially bypass security restrictions or cause the computer to diverge from the IT-mandated state
  • Uploading large files can be arduous for employees with slow, asymmetric Internet connection

How CTERA Can Help

CTERA is the only global file system vendor to have a unified solution for both VDI users and WFH laptops.

For laptop users, we recommend CTERA Drive, an agent for Windows and Mac that incorporates smart caching technology that delivers fast and secure file access to remote workers. The cloud file system is presented as an infinite local drive on the user’s PC. Smart pre-fetching keeps frequently accessed data local using a configurable and scalable cache for optimal productivity and performance – even over poor Internet links and without requiring a VPN.

For VDI users, one CTERA Edge Filer is deployed near each of your VDI clusters (or cloud-based DaaS solutions like Amazon Workspaces). The Edge Filer provides access to the user home folders and shared project folders over SMB protocol. The files are synchronized between the edge filers and the global file system, ensuring business continuity and facilitating collaboration between VDI and laptop users at different geographic locations.

Looking beyond the COVID-19 crisis, we expect to see a new equilibrium based on a more distributed workforce with a heavy reliance on remote IT. The shift towards remote work models will accelerate the adoption of cloud VDI services that enhance business continuity and user productivity for distributed enterprises. At the same time, companies will enable improved file access for remote workers using laptops – and often combine both approaches.

VDI or laptop? It’s up to you. Learn more about CTERA’s solutions for VDI and remote laptop file access and collaboration.

Aron Brand is CTERA’s Chief Technology Officer. Follow Aron on Twitter and read his other posts.

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