Developing and producing medicines is the focus of the pharmaceutical industry, and it is easy to overlook the information technology that support these efforts. In addition to strict regulatory requirements, the pharmaceutical industry must maintain the utmost confidentiality and security.
Are virtual desktops appropriate for the pharmaceutical industry? The short answer is yes, and let’s delve into the reasons why.
Confidentiality and Security
In all phases ranging from initial development to clinical trials to regulatory clearance to production, confidentiality and security are critical. Many individuals must collaborate and access various data, and any piece of information falling into the wrong hands could have a profoundly negative and perhaps even devastating impact. Large pharmaceutical entities have substantial IT staff to support virtual desktops and other technologies that address confidentiality and security.
But what about the small- and medium-sized enterprises in the pharmaceutical space? Packaging vendors, medical clinics, data analysts, consultants, start-ups, and others in the pharmaceutical industry likewise need IT systems that provide confidentiality and security, but without a massive IT staff or budget.
Virtual Desktop Environment
Virtual desktops as provided by a service provider, often called Desktop as a Service (DaaS), is the optimal solution for pharmaceutical enterprises. Not only is DaaS a cost-effective business solution, but it also addresses the technical requirements for end-user computing.
From the user perspective, accessing the virtual desktop is just a matter of entering credentials and then a familiar Windows 10 desktop environment appears. By presenting the user with a distinct virtual desktop where the user can perform all work, reliance on the physical computer is minimized and thus more secure. The physical computer only requires a web browser to access the virtual desktop, and all enterprise application interactions take place within the virtual desktop.
Where DaaS has been implemented, users save documents and files centrally, not on the physical device. Especially for the pharmaceutical industry, storing user or corporate data on the local computer can create an exposure level that is unacceptable. What happens if the user computer is lost or stolen? Or if the enterprise separates with the user on short notice, creating a hostile situation?
In the pharmaceutical workplace, a packaging engineer will typically create documents for regulatory approval and design product packages. If the interim work effort had been saved on a local computer, it is possible that files could become corrupted due to a virus infection or a hard drive failure, causing the delay of a new medicine release. But if that packaging engineer uses a virtual desktop, those files are safely preserved within the centralized cloud environment.
The compute power of virtual desktops can support the high-end calculations and resources that medical data analysts and scientists may require as they evaluate clinical trials, review radiology reports, and other massive data requirements. Unlike physical computers where upgrades to memory or processing power are complex, allocating additional resources to a virtual desktop is as simple as asking the user to logoff, administratively increasing system resources, and asking the user to login again. It takes just a few minutes provide the user with the necessary computing power.
Pharmaceutical industry regulatory compliance varies by country. Nonetheless, security compliance is a common denominator, and the inherent features of DaaS are conducive to securing positive responses from auditors. In addition to the requirement for proper user authentication, session communications are secured and encrypted, and robust auditing data is available. Because all compute resources in a virtual desktop environment are centralized, anti-virus and storage are likewise addressed centrally. As a result, system updates and backups are addressed without impacting users.
Security of patient data within clinical trials is likewise critical, and virtual desktops ensure that no data remains on the physical device of any clinician. With a traditional desktop, temporary or permanent data from some applications remains within the hidden AppData folder on the local computer, but with a DaaS solution, such is not the case. Where any data is written to the AppData folder within the virtual desktop, it is wiped clean when the user logs off and that virtual desktop session ceases.
Lastly, disaster recovery within a virtual desktop infrastructure presents little to no disruption to users. Where virtual desktops have been deployed, if a disaster affects the local office, users can easily work from home or another location. If the disaster relates to system resources hosted by the DaaS provider, failover processes and/or restoration activities that have been tested and documented are engaged.
Covid-19 brought about a new focus on, “What if?” Many pharmaceutical enterprises have been challenged in unforeseen ways as they continue development of medicines. For example, scientists focused on cancer and blood disorders continue to address those diseases, and it is increasingly difficult to find patients and administer those clinical trials. As a result, flexibility, agility, and adaptability are required for enterprises in the pharmaceutical space, and virtual desktop technology can provide the optimal enabling solution.