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How to set up an IT disaster recovery plan for VDI

VDI shops should keep a few key considerations in mind when planning for virtual desktop disaster recovery, such as which applications are most important to business operations.

Organizations spend massive sums of money to protect server workloads against outages and data loss, but few IT...

disaster recovery plans adequately back up virtual desktop and application deployments.

A VDI outage can prevent entire groups and departments from being able to work -- even if all the company's server workloads remain online and functional. As such, it's important for VDI shops to put an emphasis on virtual desktops in their disaster recovery (DR) plans.

To create an effective virtual desktop disaster recovery plan IT must consider its budget, which apps its users need access to and other factors, such as how to keep a VDI DR plan up to date. Learn four key questions VDI shops must consider when setting up its IT disaster recovery plan.

What is the budget?

Budgeting is always a top concern for IT departments, but it plays a particularly important role in disaster recovery planning for VDI. There are several viable approaches to virtual desktop DR, and each has its own price point.

For instance, an organization with deep pockets might build its own fully functional standby data center that it can turn to when a disaster strikes. If the company doesn't want to incur the building and maintenance costs of a second data center, IT can also rent space for its backup infrastructure in a colocation facility. On the other end of the spectrum, an organization with a modest IT disaster recovery plan budget might use a public cloud to host backup virtual desktops.

What level of availability do users require?

IT can omit nonessential apps from its DR plan to reduce costs and simplify disaster recovery.

IT needs to determine how long the company can survive a virtual desktop outage without major consequences to business operations and productivity. This evaluation also ties into balancing the budget because DR products that promise little or no down time are usually more expensive.

If a VDI shop decides to use the public cloud for disaster recovery, it could create all its backup virtual desktops ahead of time so they're ready to power on as soon as something goes wrong. Cloud providers tend to bill customers based on resource consumption, though, so it's often more cost-effective to have a hosting plan in place, but wait to actually generate the virtual desktops until the company needs them.

What apps do users need access to?

There are two main types of applications IT pros have to consider in a VDI DR plan -- separately delivered virtualized apps and applications installed directly onto virtual desktops. An IT disaster recovery plan for VDI must provide a way for users to access the applications they work with regularly.

When it comes to application access, there are two factors that are easy to overlook: licensing and prioritizing business-essential apps. Depending on which apps an organization uses and how IT delivers them, a collection of standby virtual desktops can increase licensing costs and dig into the DR budget.

Storage expert Jon Toigo on disaster recovery

The other consideration is that some applications are more important to the business than others. In an emergency situation the VDI DR plan should emphasize bringing critical resources online as quickly as possible. If an organization considers certain applications relatively unimportant, IT can omit nonessential apps from its DR plan to reduce costs and simplify disaster recovery.

IT must also make sure user profiles are available during an outage. Organizations typically store users' profiles on a file server rather than within the virtual desktop itself. Assuming this is the case, IT can use server- or storage-level replication to create secondary copies of user profiles. Keep in mind, though, that administrators have to make sure the DR desktops can find and connect to users' profiles.

How can IT keep its VDI DR plan up to date?

Finally, it is important for IT to keep its disaster recover desktops up to date. For example, imagine a VDI shop creates DR desktops that perfectly mimic its production desktops, but then doesn't touch them for three years. Then, a failure finally occurs. It's safe to assume the virtual desktops users currently work from are considerably different than three years ago.

Forcing users to even temporarily work from severely outdated desktops hurts productivity and can expose the organization to security risks. An IT disaster recovery plan for VDI must include a provision to periodically update the failover environment.

When planning for VDI disaster recovery, it's important to remember that one approach might not be enough to ensure smooth sailing. IT can establish multiple tiers of availability based on users' job functions. For example, an organization can use a high-end, more expensive disaster recovery plan for workers with mission-critical job functions, and a less expensive option for the rest of the workforce.

Virtual desktop disaster recovery plans are a pain and IT will cross its fingers it won't have to use any failover resources, but it's better to prepare now than find out how much damage a VDI outage incurs.

Next Steps

How to prevent VDI performance problems

Consider DaaS for disaster recovery

VDI disaster recovery planning in five steps

This was last published in July 2016

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What is the most important component of an effective virtual desktop DR plan?
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It sounds like whatever solution you choose is going to cost money. How easy is it to figure out ahead of time how much each solution would potentially cost?
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