In my previous post, I described Aetna's efforts to provide all the capabilities and tools its developers need through virtual desktops. This is a service that can benefit all of the organization beyond IT departments as well.

Gartner, for one, just released results of its own analysis of hosted virtual desktops, concluding they can make the IT manager's job a lot easier, as well as keep end-users happy and productive.

For some carriers, this may be old news. For example, I spoke with Michael Anselmo, CIO of Narragansett Bay Insurance Co., back in 2010 about his work in this area, which extended all the way back to 2005 with a previous company. As Anselmo said at the time, the two greatest benefits of virtualizing end-users' desktops included both “expense reduction and hardware server collapsing.” This not only made IT's job easier, but also helped lock down security much more effectively.

Gartner agrees, suggesting that properly implemented, hosted virtual desktops can increase security as well as help organizations and infrastructure leaders meet compliance requirements.

As many insurers weigh the advantages of cloud computing, desktop virtualization may be a great way to start — especially at a time when end users are using a growing proliferation of devices. As Gartner's Neil MacDonald puts it: "Having the organization's data spread across hundreds or thousands of devices, many of which leave the physical security of office locations, presents a significant risk of data loss. Hosted virtual desktops can help improve the security standing of the client computing environment by centralizing sensitive information and applications in the data center, giving IT system and security stakeholders the opportunity not only to improve support efficiency, but also security."

Gartner cautions, however, that the shift to virtualized desktops also requires careful planning. Plus, the issues that come with PCs won't go away entirely. “Many traditional PC security considerations remain with the HVD architecture, including desktop OS antivirus protection, but the complex nature of the HVD architecture also introduces new areas where security must be considered,” the consultancy says in its report.

There's no question many non-core elements of insurance applications and operations can be moved to private, public and hybrid clouds, thus freeing up IT departments from machine-to-machine maintenance grunt work and enabling them to focus on delivering analytics and new products. Desktop and client device maintenance is definitely one such area to consider.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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