Hosted Virtual Desktops Improve Security, Increase Complexity: Gartner

The complex nature of the HVD architecture also introduces new areas where security must be considered.

Properly implemented hosted virtual desktops (HVDs) can increase security and help organizations and infrastructure leaders meet compliance requirements, according to a report from IT research firm Garter.

One of the most commonly cited motivations for implementing HVDs is increasing the security of end-user computing, according to Gartner.

HVD is a technology that enables client computing to shift from a device-centric to a user-centric workspace, and migrate toward application and data delivery-based model, while providing an endpoint-agnostic access solution where the user's workspace can be accessed from many different locations using many different devices.

The report noted that while many traditional PC security considerations remain with the HVD architecture, including desktop operating system (OS) anti-virus protection, the complex nature of the HVD architecture also introduces new areas where security must be considered.

"Centralizing workloads gives organizations the potential to improve security, but because risk is aggregated in the data center and network with HVD, strong security controls are required to protect the infrastructure," Neil MacDonald, vice president and Gartner fellow, said in a statement. "As a result it's important to address data and HVD security requirements and leverage the security capabilities of the Citrix and VMware product sets, when required."

In addition, while HVD architecture holds the promise of a more secure environment, it can only do so if carefully planned, deployed and configured, then managed consistently on an ongoing basis. Gartner analysts said security stakeholders must ensure that they address the security requirements of the access device and remote connectivity in addition to the virtualization platform.

"An HVD architecture is complex, and infrastructure and security stakeholders must consider multiple facets, such as device form factors, access methods and data security, to avoid potential issues," Nathan Hill, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. "Chief among the concerns of organizations is how they capitalize on the opportunity to use HVDs and ensure that the environment is secure, and which areas of the architecture represent a change in risk profile from traditional client computing architectures."

Over the past four to five years, there has been an improvement in HVD architecture, the report said, with the evolution of software and hardware tailored to the workload, including HVD appliances, reference architectures, storage virtualization and personalization software. While security is an inherent strength of this technology, the report cautioned that organizational implementation should be cost-effective and compatible with the applications user's need, must be sized appropriately for capacity and performance and should deliver a positive user experience.

"Having the organization's data spread across hundreds or thousands of devices, many of which leave the physical security of office locations, presents a significant risk of data loss," MacDonald said. "HVDs can help improve the security standing of the client computing environment by centralizing sensitive information and applications in the data center, giving IT system and security stakeholders the opportunity not only to improve support efficiency, but also security."