VDI vs. VPN for remote workers: which solution is more secure?

A recent survey on the subject revealed that a staggering 11% of companies hadn't implemented any method to secure remote work. For those who do, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are used by secure workforce networks across the world.

But how does a VPN help you stay secure when working remotely? In a nutshell, they generate a private connection known as a tunnel.

When you're using one, every last drop of data that flows from your device gets encrypted and flows down said tunnel (preventing any third-parties from reading it).

All devices linked to a VPN act like they're on the same VPN's local network. A secure connection ensures device traffic is forwarded to (and from) your network — and hey presto, remote workers can connect securely to a site or network. VPNs also conceal their IP addresses from bad actors.

You'll find polls of the 'best' VPN for remote workers all the time. Whatever the flavor of the week happens to be, they'll use one of two popular network protocol suites for encrypting that data: Secure Sockets Layer or Internet Protocol Security (IPsec).

VPN advantages and VPN disadvantages explained in 6 bullet points.

  1. VPNs offer a simple way to conceal IP addresses from bad actors.

  2. They're ubiquitous and built into most systems.

  3. They're easy to understand.

  1. VPNs have become redundant in most cloud environments (where more companies than ever now operate). This is because network traffic already gets end-to-end encryption for cloud and SaaS apps. In fact, Chrome will block most HTTP traffic. And with multi-factor authentication required to access most cloud apps, they just aren't necessary.

  2. When you choose a VPN, you can only secure the network to the user's workspace. Should the worst happen and their laptop get hacked, your VPN won't do anything to keep that data secure.

  3. VPNs can be a pain in the neck to implement, especially outside the home. If you've been a remote worker, you may recognise the pain involved in getting yours up and running.

What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)?

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) recreates a desktop operating system on a central server; which is then streamed to a user's device. The end result is something that looks like a desktop environment, but is actually centrally controlled elsewhere. While simple, it comes with its fair share of downsides you won't find with a remote working VPN — which we'll cover later.

Are there any advantages of VDI for remote teams?

Yup - There are a handful of basic benefits for VDIs. Let's say you have no choice but to run a desktop app with data that can't be local. In that instance, VDI is literally your only option. The advantages of VDI over VPN potentially include greater secrecy. That is to say: your workers can use virtual desktop tools to hide the likes of online gaming activity from you. Theoretically at least, centralized data makes it easier to implement various security protocols — the likes of authentication, encryption and ransomware defences.

How can VDI let your remote workforce down?

Short answer: VDIs can seriously undermine your remote workforce and your organization. Here are the two biggest things to look out for:

VDIs can cost a fortune to maintain

Even the most efficient VDI environments are an energy swamp. When you count up the storage systems, network devices and physical servers required to maintain that energy, you may have to deal with a dwindling budget (and that's excluding the costs of setting them up). If you have to use a desktop app, it's often cheaper — and easier — to have someone code a web front end than it is to implement the full package. Talk about a cyber security headache.

VDIs can be extremely slowwwwwww

When it comes to VDI complaints, 'slow to run' is never far away. We can point the finger at multiple reasons for sluggish VDI performance. Storage and network congestion, software hiccups and thinly spread resources are frequent contributors. In the context of remote work, this can make things so bad as to be unusable. That bodes poorly for dispersed teams – whether they're working to important deadlines or otherwise.

VPN vs. VDI: Which one wins?
(and do you even need the winner?)

We already explained that the difference between VPN and VDI is that, while the latter grants users access to a remote workspace, the former protects an end user's connection to the company network using a tunneled encryption. But how do they stack up against one another?

For us, it's easier to answer than you might think: VPNs win out both in terms of time to set up and cost to maintain. Once you're up and running, there's less ongoing hassle than their counterparts.

But here's the kicker. While VPNs might win out in terms of VDI and VDP differences, the true question is…do you really need one?

If your company data sits in an internal corporate environment, opting for VPNs across your remote workforce makes sense. But given 92% of businesses now have a multi-cloud strategy in place (or at least in the works), and you're likely one of them, the truth is there's no need.

When it comes to virtual desktop vs. VPN, should you look at other solutions?

The truth is, comparing VPN vs virtual desktop can be a zero sum game. You'll never find us flying the flag for VDI solutions, and while VPNs are popular for a reason, cloud-first companies have needs they can't account for.

If you're looking to maintain security for remote workers, the simple option doesn't have to mean basic. Cubeless's browser-based, plug-and-play setup gives you built-in security and compliance, gets going in minutes — and anyone can use it. Oh, and you can get the whole thing for $30 a month — zero commitment.Check out what we're alluding to, here.

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