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Virtual Research Desktop (VRD)

The Virtual Research Desktop (VRD) offers researchers a secure way to store and access their research data.  It allows the hosting of a desktop operating system on a centralized HIPAA-compliant server that is managed by the ACTRI Biomedical Informatics Team. VRD access is limited to users with a valid UCSD Active Directory account and multi-factor authentication through Duo. For extra security, the VRD environment is self-contained and allows no access to printers, internet, email or external drives.

VRD can also be customized to include your own licenses and/or applications.

Benefits of VRD

  • Users can enjoy increased productivity since they can access their data from anywhere.  That makes work-from-home security easier. 
  • HIPAA data is stored at the UCSD data center where security can protect against leaks. Centralizing desktop execution in the data center reduces the number of data paths that security must inspect and streamlines compliance with audit reporting requirements for the use of personal health information (PHI) and other regulated data. Since the data that is accessed from the VRD is never stored on the end user’s device, the need for data protection is lessened.
  • Easy to setup secure group-level access to PHI.
  • Upon request, data may also be backed up and archived.

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Pre-installed VRD Software

These software packages are installed in all VRD systems:

  • 7-Zip
  • Acrobat
  • FileZilla
  • Git
  • Python 3
  • PuTTy
  • Matlab
  • MS Office
  • MySQL Workbench
  • Navicat
  • pgAdmin
  • PyCharm
  • R
  • R studio
  • Reader
  • Rtools
  • Slicer
  • SPSS
  • Stat/Transfer
  • Sublime Text Editor
  • Tableau*
  • WinSCP

*Note: Fees may apply.

Users cannot install software in their VRD – to request additional software you will need to contact Application Support:

  • Include “VRD:” in the e-mail subject.
  • Specify the software to be installed. If the software is available on the Internet, please provide a URL.
  • If the software is licensed, does your team have a suitable license?

How to Request a VRD

You create a VRD Access request via the ACTRI service request form:

  • Go to the ACTRI Service Request Form .
  • Select “Biomedical Informatics” as the Service Type.
  • Select “Virtual Research Desktop (VRD)” as the Biomedical Informatics Service.
  • Fill out the required fields (everything with a red asterisk*).
  • Click “Submit”.
  • Upon clicking “Submit”, a notification will be sent to the Application Support Team. We will process your request and send the access form to the P.I. and any additional users via DocuSign.

You will also need to register to UC San Diego Health Duo in order to log in to your VRD.

Select “Biomedical Informatics”

Select “Virtual Research Desktop (VRD)”

Fill out the Required Fields* and click “Submit”

VRD Policies & Procedures

  • The use of VRD is audited and misuse of VRD and associated data, including unauthorized access to patient records, can result in the revocation of this privilege and possible disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment and possible civil and criminal prosecution. 
  • Data import/export requests may require up to 3 business days to process.
  • Data exports will only be allowed onto UCSD Health System controlled computers which are secure and encrypted.
  • All VRD users must have UCSD Active Directory (AD) credentials and two-factor authentication (2FA) enabled (via Duo) for access.
  • All users must notify Application Support when they no longer need VRD access.


How much does VRD cost?

Currently, VRD is a free service provided by the ACTRI.

What are the options for new/existing VRD’s?

  • 4 cores and 8GB RAM. More can be requested but there might be a monthly fee.
  • 10GB for data storage but more can be requested.

How do I add users to my VRD?

  • Place a request with Application Support.
  • Support will send you forms that need to be filled in and signed using DocuSign.
  • Once all the paperwork is completed, access should be available within two business days.

You will also need register for the UC San Diego Health Duo in order to use your VRD.

Note that for a DECS VRD there are special requirements.

How do I import/export my data?

For all data migration requests, please email with the “VRD:” in the subject.


Please include the following in your request:

  • File names to import
  • File types (Excel, text, etc.)
  • File sizes
  • Where is the data from? (Ex. University of Wisconsin)


All exports must be to a computer on the Medical Center network.

In your request please include:

  • File names to export
  • Computer IP or Hostname
  • Justification for the export

VRD Resources

Useful files and documentation for VRD.

CTRI VRD- Access Instructions

Connecting to CTRI SFTP Server