Desktop virtualization is an increasingly popular way to get more out of old IT systems while enabling access to company applications from virtually any device. By hosting an operating system on a centralized virtual machine, organizations can avoid the hassle of installing and managing extra software on every last piece of equipment. Under ideal circumstances, virtualization contributes to high levels of security and convenience.

Virtual desktop infrastructure and mobile security
The influx of mobile endpoints into the workplace, fueled by bring-your-own-device policies, has made such virtual desktop infrastructure appealing. IDC recently estimated that 155 million smartphones would be used for BYOD in the Asia-Pacific region in 2014.

But what about security? Employees who use their own hardware may be prone to mingling personal habits and data with corporate assets. A classic example is managing sensitive work documents through consumer applications such as Dropbox.

Enter VDI. Important data can be kept in cloud storage services and accessed exclusively via secure connections. Information is usually not retained locally, and all permissions are protected by authentication mechanisms. VDI basically provides a catch-all solution to managing application access in the context of BYOD.

"The move to BYOD was a wakeup call for mobile security because information security is a key IT responsibility – regardless of whether the mobile device in question is company-provided or user-owned," observed Michael Finneran for TechTarget. "Unless an organization opts for a solution that avoids storing corporate data on a mobile device, systems will be needed to protect that information."

Virtualization vendors target health care, financial industries
VDI's potential for securing applications and data has caught the attention of organizations in health care, finance and other regulated sectors. At the same time, major technology vendors have worked on thin client solutions for these markets, crafting products and services that enable desktop virtualization through minimal infrastructure.

Still, as virtualization becomes more popular, there have been concerns about balancing performance and security. Network Computing's Jim O'Reilly dug into the dilemma by noting that many providers have added instance storage, which are usually solid-state drives that provide the speed and muscle to overcome common bottlenecks such as VDI boot storms (i.e., when everyone logs in at around the same time).

Instance storage enables outstanding performance, but it also results in data states being preserved and, in theory, prone to surveillance and theft. Persistent data could be an issue for health care organizations obligated to comply with legislation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Organizations should understand the ins and out of any virtualization solution before entrusting data to it.