The mobile security aspects of VDI

Virtual desktops could complement -- or compete with -- MDM solutions

Enterprise mobility chaos is driving a wealth of mobile device management and security offerings from a wide variety of vendors. Will virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) products and services become a component of the MDM market, too?

Now that tablets have become the rage and VDI clients are available for them, it's possible.

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"MDM" refers to the slew of activities related to provisioning and controlling the mobile enterprise environment and keeping it secure. VDI - the "thin client" approach to remote data access -- typically isn't a component of MDM, but it could be. It's available for mobile OS platforms, and it solves some challenges of securing corporate data accessed by mobile devices.

The point of VDI is for users to view and manipulate data remotely, over the network, from a screen on the device they have in hand. The work looks and feels just as though the data is local to that device (depending on how elegant the VDI network protocols are), yet the data never leaves the safe confines of the data center.

One of the big challenges to enterprise mobility, of course, is protecting data on small mobile devices that can be lost, stolen or compromised.

Typically, VDI implementations have been in the form of a laptop remotely accessing and manipulating data on a corporate server for apps such as protecting intellectual property. For example, tech companies often have lots of contract R&D engineers. Some deem it far safer to keep applications and files on a secured machine in a data center than to unleash it onto individual portable computers.

The trend is likely to further pick up now that so many users are accessing the corporate network with an iPad, PlayBook, Galaxy Tab, Xoom -- name your favorite tablet. Array Networks, for example, announced its DesktopDirect VDI solution for Android earlier this month, available from the Android Market.

DesktopDirect, also available for Apple iOS platforms, lets tablet users (or smartphone users with really good eyesight) remotely power up physical or virtual PC at headquarters and work on it "through" the mobile device. You do need a client agent for the mobile device, but nothing is required for the LAN-connected PC. Rather, you run a VDI appliance in your data center that logs users in, discovers the list of desktop(s) each is registered to, and then extends those desktops across the network to the tablet.

I asked Lior Rappaport, product line manager for DesktopDirect, if Array were looking into any partnerships with MDM companies. "A qualified yes," he said. "Sometimes, simply by using DesktopDirect, you already solve [some of] your [mobile security] problems."

Food for thought.

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