Skip to main content

Disaster recovery at the rebirth of virtual desktop infrastructures

(Image credit: Image Credit: alphaspirit / Shutterstock)

The 2020 health crisis has led to an explosion in work from home (WFH) initiatives. Companies have been compelled to respond quickly, and most of them were neither ready nor well prepared for home working and suddenly have to deal with their employees being dispersed around the world. For larger enterprises, this has been particularly challenging, especially considering the required scale of the solution. Unlike their smaller and nimbler brethren, large organisations have had to consider complex IT challenges to enable remote working.

As a core component to facilitate WFH, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and Desktop as a Service (DaaS) have been cast back into the spotlight once again. Both obviously provide an ideal solution for WFH, especially in environments where data is centralised, applications are task-specific, and security is essential, but what about ensuring protection against security treats once the access is provided or the VDI infrastructure availability?

Application stacks and databases have traditionally been front and centre when it comes to disaster recovery and availability efforts. Still, VDI infrastructure, on the other hand, most frequently was considered non-critical infrastructure and left out of disaster recovery initiatives. However, now with most employees working from home, this has changed, and additional thought is necessary to maintain employee productivity.

If disaster recovery for VDI is not addressed, you are taking risks on the future of your company.

It’s worth noting three things from the outset. One: the VDI market is growing fast. Omdia’s market forecast for virtualised desktops showed that by 2023, it will grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of over 12 per cent and will be worth upwards of $11bn. Two: work from home is here to stay for many of us. Attitudes are changing at such a pace that only a few months ago it would have been inconceivable for Square to embrace a WFH policy forever suddenly, or that Barclays’ CEO, Jes Staley, would say crowded corporate offices with thousands of employees “may be a thing of the past.” Three: oversight or mismanagement of VDI DR is not new: I wrote about this very topic a decade ago, discussing different scenarios for on-premises datacentres. But this time the stakes are higher. You should keep all three points in mind to note that the changes you make now are likely to have a lasting impact on your company long after the pandemic has receded. So, let’s consider your options.

DR to a remote datacentre

However, deploying additional infrastructure that will sit IDLE waiting for a disaster is the very reason why organisations have not been implementing DR for VDI. It is costly and does not provide an immediate return on investment.

This is the most common situation where an organisation has two or more datacentres that provide enough resource capacity (compute and storage) to handle a DR scenario. While there are challenges around data and application replication, the solution is pretty well understood, and both VMware and Citrix offer competitive products.

New cloud-based deployment

If your organisation doesn’t do VDI today and it is looking to deploy a remote environment for employees to work from home, then a cloud-based solution may be satisfactory. Some providers provide native, cloud-based desktops with integrated DR. But of course, there is some element of risk because the cloud can also fail.

While spinning new desktops is easy, you still need to handle application availability and recoverability from your on-premise datacentre. However, if you have that already covered and if the cloud desktops will be able to operate well from the cloud, then this is perhaps a good alternative.

DR to VMware cloud on AWS

The third and more economical option is to leverage the VMware Cloud on AWS as a DR target. If you already have an existing on-premise VDI deployment using Citrix XenDesktop or VMware Horizon, you can use a downloadable virtual appliance to set the VMware Cloud as your target DR environment for both persistent and non-persistent desktops.

The DR workflow is automated with a native orchestrator for both virtual desktops and for infrastructure servers. As for the cloud resources, you only pay when you start using them, so it provides a phenomenal ROI in comparison to on-premise DR solutions.

Finally, the solution can also handle application availability, ransomware attack recovery, and failback when your on-prem datacentre is back up and running.

Another option adopted by some organisations in conjunction with VMware Cloud is the use of non-persistent desktops, but this option requires time-consuming application re-packaging and ensuring that user data is available in the cloud; therefore, it is more appropriate for enterprises that are well along into the remote work journey.

What about costs?

Though the current circumstances are exceptional, there is no promise the health crisis will end anytime soon. Many organisations are being stretched financially. So, what should you consider lowering your VDI DR expenditure?

DR-as-a-service (DRaaS) is a comprehensive set of cloud services for the protection of on-premises datacentres. It encompasses backup, orchestration, DR, as well as the VMware Cloud on AWS resources; all bundled in an easy to consume pay-as-you-go and pay-when-you-need SaaS service. DRaaS dramatically reduces IT costs, keeps data safe and secure, and delivers enterprise-grade failover and failback for any VMware environment running on any storage solution (SAN, NAS, HCI). This solution effectively enables IT organisations to implement alternative DR strategies or even eliminate physical DR sites that may have high associated costs.

This approach directly benefits the return on investment and total cost of ownership of the solution, solving a common problem existent with disaster recovery options.

The Covid-19 pandemic will bring about fundamental change to our working patterns. Sadly, this change has opened up new vulnerabilities for enterprises. When implementing and managing WFH policies, you will need to monitor IT use for evidence of malicious behaviour and protect critical infrastructure and data. But if there is anything close to a silver lining, it will be that after the pandemic, the changes in enterprise VDI security architecture will be here to stay.

Andre Leibovici, Chief Technology Officer APJ, Datrium