It seems that most countries, when it comes to the pandemic, have moved from a contain and manage to more of a ‘how do we live alongside the problem?’ approach.

At the moment, many discussions are looking at whether employees will return to working from the office, continue working from home (WFH), or be provided with the ability to move to a hybrid work model. The last two options are good news for MSPs.

If employees are going to work from home, then they need to be working in a secure environment. The problem is that their home devices are not inherently secure. If the individual is using their devices for both personal and business activities, then chances are they may not have installed the latest operating system updates or have anti-virus and other systems present. This means the device may be riddled with viruses, Trojans and other malicious payloads.

Sure, an organisation could insist on the employee updating their system, installing anti-virus software, running this and attempting to clean out any problems found. But, how much easier to just run an environment that is better controlled – one that is sandboxed so that no matter how badly infected the device is, the individual can carry on with their work without it being a problem?

Hosted desktops are a beneficial solution for MSPs and their clients

Instead of the desktop being installed and run directly on the individual’s device, it is hosted in a data centre and accessed via the device. There are multiple benefits to such an approach, including:

    • Control – The organisation maintains control of the desktop, and can apply policies as to what the user can install, delete or change. Updates and patches, as well as access to applications and data, remain under the organisation’s control, too.
    • Security – The organisation can control what is stored on the user’s device – in general, this will be nothing apart from a degree of cached information, which can be deleted when the user terminates the session. All the main data can be stored safely in the datacentre, with full security and backups in place.
    • Continuity – For those working in a hybrid office/home manner, hosted desktops provide a means of enabling uninterrupted work. For example, the individual leaves work, having logged out from their hosted desktop. Arriving at home, they can restart that session from a different device – from exactly where they left off.
    • Avoiding cross-contamination – Educating users as to how they should update their own systems, install anti-virus software, avoid clicking on suspect links in emails, and so on is a perennial problem. As such, home-based systems may be riddled with malicious items. Organisations do not want such issues spreading into their main network – yet this can happen where those who WFH access business-related items on contaminated and compromised devices. It is far easier to eliminate that issue by sandboxing the working environment, thereby blocking any capacity for the individual’s own environment to interact directly with the organisation’s environment. Hosted desktops can be set up to prevent cut-and-paste between the two area and prevent the use of untrusted external devices (such as thumbdrives, removable hard disk drives, printers), which then ensures that the business data remains within the business’ control.
    • Quick recovery – desktops do go wrong (e.g’ with the Blue Screen of Death – BsoD). Should this happen to a user’s own device, anything being worked on could be lost, and recovery from such a failure may be problematic. Hosted desktops, while still occasionally experiencing fatal errors, will do so less often, due to being far more standardised and controlled. Even where they do fail, spinning the instance back up again takes seconds – and as such instances can be logically abstracted from the data created by the desktop, the issue that caused the problem can also be removed during the reboot.
    • Adherence to policies – Trying to enforce business policies on a device that is owned by an individual is not easy. However, hosted desktops enable full control by policy – and the policies can be managed centrally and applied globally. Even areas such as use of email can be controlled, and the user can be forced to use a separate email client in the hosted environment for work mail, rather than using an untrusted, unmanaged email client on their own device.
    • Performance – bandwidth and latency used to be the major issue with hosted desktops, causing users to rapidly lose interest in using remote desktops. Modern remote desktops now make the most of the bandwidth available and minimise the amount of data transmitted across the network link. As such, performance can be impressive. Indeed, by controlling the amount of back-end resources available to a desktop, a user on a low-end access device can access what would be considered as a high-end workstation without any major problems.

For MSPs, the capacity to provide such remote desktops for what is likely to be the ‘new normal’ going forward should be embraced. Most organisations are looking for the best way to deal with such an increase in dispersed working – selling a comprehensive solution based around remote desktops should be far easier than it has ever been up to now.

The best thing – there is now choice. You can host your own desktops on your own platform for maximum flexibility, or you will very soon be able to use Microsoft’s own PC-as-a-Service offering where other services such as the Microsoft 365 suite of products can be directly integrated.

Photo: Pla2na / Shutterstock

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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