What are cloud desktops and how can they benefit my business?

Cloud desktops provide businesses with the flexibility and scalability they need to grow and collaborate

Laptop on a desk with a cloud illustration overlay, with icons to represent a virtual desktop

Cloud desktops - also known as virtual desktops, hosted desktops, or Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) - virtualise everything that loads when the user powers up a PC. It presents their whole computer, set up how they need it, on their preferred device.

Organisations usually purchase licenses for virtual desktops hosted by a vendor, and employees can log into their virtual desktop from a device of their choosing, making remote working a more viable option.

Although the principles of providing a desktop experience remotely are similar, there are differences between cloud desktops and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). VDI is served through on-premise servers, with the infrastructure and deployment managed by internal IT teams. VDI has much higher upfront costs as it requires an investment in the servers and storage needed, as well as ongoing maintenance and upgrade costs.

By contrast, cloud desktops use a third-party provider to host in the cloud, meaning that no on-premise servers or costly infrastructure is needed.

Many cloud desktop providers have add-ons such as Microsoft Office licenses, antivirus and data storage which businesses can add or take away when necessary, and customise to their own needs.

Business benefits of cloud desktops

Like most cloud services, there is little or no on-premises infrastructure that a business has to invest in to get started with cloud desktops, and there's no costly hardware to maintain. The as-a-service model also means that costs are usually on a subscription model, making them predictable and easier to manage.

Employees can be given secure access from anywhere on any device, but because the data and desktop are stored elsewhere, even if they lose their laptop, there's nothing to steal from it, so there's no security breach.

Cloud desktops make remote working much simpler, as setup just involves verification and login, without the need for additional hardware. A setup like this is particularly useful when there are interruptions to travel such as snow days or transport strikes, as workers can carry on as normal from home.  

Collaboration and file sharing are another benefit to businesses. Cloud desktops are a step further than cloud file sharing applications, in that the entire interface is stored and delivered through the cloud rather than just files, but it brings the same collaboration benefits that many file-sharing services also deliver.

Having a centralised backup of files and data is another benefit of cloud desktops, making disaster recovery much faster through remote back-up. For business use, it's important to choose a service that is strong on security and collaboration, and is designed for intensive business use.

Cloud desktops can be a challenge if applications are resource-intensive and internet connection is patchy. Many cloud desktops also have an option to run offline and work even if there's no internet connection, but this may not meet the needs of every business.

Flexibility and scalability are two major benefits of cloud desktops, as they allow businesses, whether large or small, to grow at their own pace, adding and taking away licenses as they're required. It's also much more straightforward to roll out updates for software or add new applications, without having to worry about updates and security fixes on individual machines.

However, there are sometimes additional costs involved in cloud desktops, so finding a provider which offers a transparent pricing model is vital to avoid unwanted hidden charges.

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