Cloud desktop estates: Your three scepticisms answered

By Dirk Anderson | 16 February 2018

The cloud has long been an object of scepticism in the financial services, but how genuine are those concerns when you pick through the details?


When film producer Darryl Zanuck declared in 1946 that “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months - people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night”, little did he know that the cloud technology behind the success of Netflix and other streaming services would now be making significant gains on the film market - admittedly, in LED and not plywood form.

Evidently, hindsight is a wonderful thing and predicting mass adoption is no easy feat. As with television - and the host of services that came with it - cloud technology has similarly received its fair share of scepticism.


Right to be sceptic?

That scepticism is legitimate and healthy for the financial industry, with its characteristically low risk appetite threshold, and for good reason. Trust is the name of the game and any breach leaves the customer’s savings on the line, and the bank liable for it. But with Open Banking in the driving seat of the wider technological revolution, banks are expected to provide a far more customer-centric experience, almost exclusively relying on an omnichannel approach. Providing that sort of penetration of service across multiple channels is costly and highly demanding on the stretched IT teams.

Certainly, the vast majority of CIOs and information security officers will all be in favour of cloud adoption and all too aware of the benefits: expanded IT capacity, enhanced efficiency and cost-effective in time and resource. They, as well as the stakeholders, will also be all too aware of the risks associated with the cloud: the disruption to legacy systems, the fuzzy and added complexity surrounding data classification, and that’s before even mentioning the dreaded data breach management scenarios.

Many CIOs will also be familiar with VDI and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS). If, like many, enterprise cloud migration remains a luxury of the future, a VDI solution can be a good compromise and a foot in the door. It will become apparent as we address the scepticisms below, that a bit of forethought can leave everyone in a better position to make the most of the cost efficiency and elasticity a cloud desktop estate can provide.

We’ve outlined the most common concerns with cloud technology and provided a solution.


1. We’ll be tied to one service

The first reluctance comes from this need to provide a better experience to stay afloat in the market and has little to do with IT. As one of the most traditionally IT heavy industries, banks will be all too familiar having the mainframe of their enterprise tied to one provider - the likes of IBM or Oracle - and the rigidity of that end-to-end infrastructure service often restricted business autonomy and opportunities rather than encouraging.

The infrastructure market has certainly opened up with AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure offering their own viable cloud solutions for enterprises. The format of the banking mainframe has opened up too, with the DevOps of recent years separating the machine into parts as an innovation model to provide more freedom without disruption to the whole. It is these microservices that can benefit from the cloud and, dependent on the service-level agreement, does not necessitate a binding clause across the whole enterprise.  

Of course, hegemony of a single cloud provides its own benefits, but what is important to grasp is the greater degree of elasticity with cloud infrastructure.


2. The cloud won’t be cheaper

This is a problematic statement and one that depends heavily on the type of organisation or the type of functionality. Ultimately, the earliest adopters will be the best rewarded as their systems will be more versatile and elastic and able to take full advantage of future developments in the technology; the AI convergence with IT for a totally independent, data led operating system.

In any case, migration to the cloud is a steady progress and one that will take some years for universal adoption in the financial industry even if we begin to see a tipping point, as the various industry reports demonstrate. In short, migration to the cloud on some low risk functions will not only enhance them, but free up resources for more important IT operations.

For instance, it is a waste of IT time to have them monitoring and servicing the desktop estate, requiring much less technical knowledge and allocating their time to more expert and bespoke in-house solutions.

To that end, one of the first migrations to the cloud may very well be investing in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). The large desktop estate of any institution is a huge drain on resource and revenue. The hardware cost of desktop and local servers alone would be reason enough to migrate.  


3. The cloud is not secure

When data breaches occur on third party cloud platforms it turns heads and fingers are pointed squarely at the third parties. There’s been a large degree of scaremongering around this particular aspect, but often the chinks form in the bridge between the separate organisations; nothing that a good audit, governance policy and standard adherence cannot limit. The reality is that cloud providers may offer a more robust data security solution than organisations can build in-house.

The Microsoft Azure protection systems alone automatically detects and prevents more than ten million attacks each day, whilst the Active Directory they deploy, keeps account of privileged access and grants greater centralised control to the organisation.

It is this dedication to centralised control that many firms find appealing about Microsoft Azure. In the VDI chain, the end-point user at the desktop is still the weakest link; there is no accounting for human error. Indeed, cloud desktopping has an inadvertent bonus that no confidential files are stored on the hard drive whilst backups are constantly syncing to the Azure cloud. This means, dependent on the user, that a desktop can be secured with a golden image, effectively wiping the malware associated with ransomware attacks.

It is worth going over the running theme prevailing in all three answers to these security, cost and service concerns - scrutiny.


How a little forethought can tip the risk/reward ratio in your favour with VDI

Through our own case studies implementing Citrix on Azure VDI solutions for clients, we’ve seen first-hand how organisations of different sizes can benefit from VDI. VDI can offer scalability on-demand with the potential for applications to monitor their own performance and re-allocate additional power for peak periods in a pay for what you use scheme. We found that organisations could reduce costs by as much as 36%, when they switched to the cloud, powering thousands of enterprise desktops with a single, unified and 360 monitoring view for IT.

Similarly, VDI is the first wave in desktop modernisation. The ability to equip employees with consistent, effective and fast desktops (on different devices) with all the functionality of the office (controlled by central IT), has important business ramifications too, opening up secure telecommuting and a global yet unified suite of applications; excellent for a fledgling organisation looking to expand rapidly. Business agility makes and saves money.

But firstly, forethought is required as well as careful auditing and scrutiny of data and third-party access. We’ve put together a VDI checklist to assess your readiness for this cloud solution.

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