The value of desktop as a service for federal agencies
- By Chris Howard
- Apr 21, 2020
With the Office of Management and Budget’s announcement that the federal government should be operating with “maximum telework” flexibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a more acute need for agencies to adopt and implement flexible work strategies. As such, more agencies are looking into technologies like desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) solutions. Agencies that have traditionally relied on back-end infrastructure to manage virtual desktop workloads are realizing the high costs of infrastructure and human capital as they aim to reduce complexity and overhead.
This evolution has led to more organizations looking to DaaS as a way to give users access to applications and information in a more flexible and dynamic way. DaaS removes the burden of managing an on-prem control plane by delivering the same functionality as a service from the cloud. The actual desktop workloads can be orchestrated by the service to run in multiple public clouds, government clouds and even on-prem private clouds based on agency requirements.
Supporting the need for both secure desktop management and user flexibility, agencies looking to reevaluate their virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) should consider these four key benefits of DaaS:
1. Uniquely tailored contractor desktops. Agencies that have a large workforce composed of both staff and contractor employees across locations require standardized desktops with access based on employee need. DaaS solutions allow for the development of such desktops with app integration based on user credentials, easing endpoint management challenges.
With the federal government strongly encouraging agencies to offer telework options for their employees amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, users will be shifting to working on projects at home and collaborating with their teams virtually. For this arrangement to work, agency employees need greater flexibility regarding where and how they work and which devices they use. For example, an agency that frequently works with international counterparts would need a common digital workspace that provides a consistent set of applications and access to the same data and networks -- but with government-grade security.
Beyond the typical day-to-day activities, DaaS offerings are particularly helpful in cases of cross-agency partnerships. This could include one-to-one joint agency efforts, but it also could include multi-office efforts during major events like the coronavirus response. DaaS allows organizations to quickly and securely manage endpoints, regardless of location.
2. Secure internet browsing. Government agencies, regardless of mission, have strict protocols and access requirements for employees at each level of the organization. According to a recent study from IDC, 70% of successful breaches originate on the endpoint. Adopting a bring-your-own-device policy, as many organizations are now forced to do, only makes device management and security challenges more intractable. Even if an agency hasn’t formally adopted BYOD, the reality is that employees inevitably find ways to use their own devices to access apps and data for work. Virtual desktops address these challenges by moving a lot of the “heavy lifting” of device and security management into an enterprise or cloud data center.
As many agencies have adopted public cloud infrastructure to support workload flexibility, secure browsing remains a top priority. Any cloud breach could lead to financial loss, national security issues and, today, a spread of online misinformation regarding COVID-19 health and policy updates. Federal cloud security solutions can include more formal certifications like the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program process, but desktop solutions also need a key security component. Through DaaS, even if a desktop operating system is modified or corrupted during one user session, the next time the user logs in, all changes will have disappeared. The user will essentially start from a clean “known-good” state because of the ephemeral nature of a non-persistent virtual machines used by DaaS. This also ensures that any kind of attacks against the browser stay within the VDI session and never make it back into the core enterprise. As hackers become more adept at finding ways to compromise data, organizations responsible for housing sensitive information -- such as tax filings, federal investigations and student data -- must have monitoring technology to stop breaches before they can occur.
3. Application augmentation. Even in larger agencies with thousands of desktops all based on a common image, employees have varying security clearances. In these cases, DaaS solutions allow for the delivery of individual apps or suites of apps through a browser with no additional hardware or software required. Agencies that have a variety of application needs can also take advantage of DaaS subscription models. These services allow for agencies to only pay for what they need on an ongoing basis, rather than adopting a more rigid solution at a higher cost and losing money on the unused offerings.
Specific to the federal sector, an agency CIO or IT decision-maker will be accessing different applications and desktops than an entry-level engineer. Their access and security permissions should reflect these needs, which is where the provisioning of access that DaaS solutions provide is so valuable.
4. Multicloud and data gravity. Agencies are increasingly spreading workloads across a variety of cloud platforms. Certain DaaS offerings enable an interaction between multiple clouds so that, from one administrative interface, workloads can be deployed to any of the clouds without needing an expert for each platform. Rather than incurring costs for moving data, DaaS allows users to jump between desktops located around the world and enables customers to be able to quickly access data right next to where it lies.
As federal agencies prepare for work’s new normal, they must each identify and adopt the technologies and cultural practices that will allow them to continue operating as close to usual as possible and align with their transformation goals. With DaaS solutions, employees can access their applications and data from any device and any location, without being limited by the performance of the device. Users can shift from secure desktop to laptop to tablet to phone -- and find everything right where they left it. Additionally, a device failure, loss or theft is much less of a disaster with a DaaS solution since data doesn’t need to reside on the device. DaaS can help organizations meet the unique needs of every end user while curtailing the issues presented by VDI infrastructures.
Chris Howard is vice president of U.S. public sector, Nutanix.