By Michael Butz Jr

How Virtual Desktops Ensure Continuous Operations

Part of the Executive Blog Series

About this Series

The Information Technology field is evolving at an exponential pace. The number of available paths to navigate this field seems limitless; and it is easy for a business to unintentionally follow one that does not lead to their desired outcome. All too often, businesses rely solely on technologists within the company to steer the company’s IT strategy and convey the benefits to the business decision makers. Although this can be effective in some cases, it frequently leads to the chosen IT solution falling short of desired business outcomes. This blog series aims to mitigate that risk by evaluating some of the complex technological trends and translating them to real-world business impacts that can be easily understood by any business leader.

Here is an important question to ponder: what would the impact be to your business if your critical IT systems went down for two days? What about a week? A month? One of the top 5 commonalities among Customers that I speak with is that executive management/ownership is on a different page than the IT team regarding up-time of critical IT systems. 

You may recognize the following details of a typical conversation we often have with prospective customers. The customer will explain that they currently take daily backups and then move the tapes offsite. We'll ask how long it would take to completely restore operations in case of a disaster. The response is often a week or longer. Later in the conversation we'll ask how much downtime is acceptable from their ownership or management. The customer often says that management can’t tolerate downtime. This leads to us asking if ownership realizes that their current system has the potential for weeks of downtime. The customer typically says that they don’t think so, but they haven’t had an outage yet.

That's a bit frightening, isn't it? And, this conversation happens a lot.

IT disasters can be caused by a multitude of factors, some of which may seem benign. A solid IT Business Continuity Plan needs to account for keeping operations running, regardless of severity, even if it seems minor. Often, these plans focus on protecting the data center, and rightfully so. But the data center is only part of the computing environment. The end user must be able to continue to work, too. How do you keep operations functioning if end users lose access to their desktop, laptop, or other computing device? What happens if end users are forced to work from a location other than their typical work space?

That's where virtual desktops should be considered.

Virtual Desktops? What’s that?

You may be asking “what are Virtual Desktops and how do they relate to our ability to keep operations running?”

Virtual Desktops, also known as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI, is technology that enables users to access a centrally-managed desktop from a remote session from anywhere, using any device, as long as they have an internet connection. Sometimes it’s been defined as server-based computing. VDI uses a centralized server to run a virtual machine that hosts a desktop operating system. In the office, employees will typically use a thin client that is a desktop terminal with no hard drive, and all the features such as applications, sensitive data, and memory are stored in the centralized data center. With this system, employees can securely and quickly access data in the office, on the road or across town using any device available to them at that time.

How do Virtual Desktops help businesses?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure enables Centralized Data Management, which means:

  • Virtual Desktops reside in the datacenter, so access to application infrastructure happens on a ultra-low latency and high bandwidth core network for maximum application performance and end user experience
  • Confidential and proprietary information can be securely “vaulted” in the datacenter and only accessible from the Virtual Desktop
  • VDI security policies provide granular access control to limit movement of data in and out of the corporate network

What do businesses say about VDI?

If you ask a user what VDI is, they may say it’s what allows them to choose how they work best by providing access to systems and files anywhere they want to work. If the hardware they are working on crashes, they can simply log into their session from another device and they are right back where they left off, because their session – their user experience – resides in a data center, not on that specific laptop, desktop, tablet or thin client.

When you ask an IT Professional what VDI is, they may say it’s what gives them more control and security over user behaviors, their systems, and speeds up updates. They can control where data is stored, how it’s accessed, and by whom. And, instead of updating tens or hundreds of laptops or desktops, they simply update the application in the data center which significantly eases the chore of updating computing environments and applications.

Lastly, if you were to ask a CEO or CFO who is using VDI how it benefits their company, they may tell you it reduces the total cost of ownership of computers, creates efficiencies, and increases employee satisfaction while allowing them to have greater security over company data and intellectual property.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and Continuous Business Operations

A virtual desktop infrastructure complements a strong IT business continuity plan. Unfortunately, and quite often, IT Business Continuity Plans do not include the end-users' ability to access their applications nor to recover their data.

VDI enables “True” IT Business Continuity by:

  • Providing the ability to “failover” every user’s Windows Desktop to a secondary data center
  • Providing access to user desktops from anywhere with any device connected to the internet
  • Keeping all user data centrally stored and protected, by default

This means that if, for any reason, your employees cannot access your office or their primary device, they can use any secondary device from any location with internet access to continue working. We all can name the extreme examples that can cause loss of access to an office building such as weather – hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard. But what about those incidents that don’t make the news, but can bring a business to its knees such as:

  • Construction, or a traffic accident outside your building, accidentally cuts the power or internet to your building causing an outage of hours or days
  • A fire in your building causes the sprinkler system to deploy which damages all the laptops and desktops in your office
  • A rodent infestation in your office building is discovered by a different tenant of the building resulting in a quarantine of the building for several days and prohibiting anyone from entering the building (Yes, this example really happened!)

Outages happen. Access is cut off to buildings. Unforeseen and unimaginable circumstances – many which may seem benign – have resulted in loss of computing ability for hours and days.

If this happened to your business, how would you maintain operations?

Businesses using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure simply send their employees home, to the library, or to the local coffee shop to continue working.

Business using traditional computing cease operations until they can resolve whatever caused the problem.

VDI can reduce data breaches.

Data breaches cost companies $6.2 billion each year. The amount is staggering and it can start with the loss of just one laptop or mobile device. It’s true there has been a rise in cyber threats and hacking, but what about old fashioned physical theft?

According to PCWorld “It’s a lot easier to steal a laptop than it is to hack into a corporate database, so the theft and loss of laptops, as well as desktops and flash drives, highlight the need for enhanced physical security and employee training.”

Furthermore, a growing trend in business is the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work option. In fact, Gartner estimated that by the end of 2017, half of all employees will have had a need for a BYOD policy. Having personal devices mixed with corporate devices raises the risk if these personal devices are lost or stolen containing sensitive information.

Don’t think the threat is real? Check out these statistics from the Ponemon Institute: a study revealed up to 12,000 laptop computers are lost weekly and up to 600,000 lost annually at U.S. airports. Next, the study also revealed 53% of surveyed mobile professionals carry confidential company information, 65% of those who carry it don’t take steps to protect It.

The Ponemon Institute teamed up with Intel to conduct a fascinating and startling study called, The Cost of a Lost Laptop. An increasingly mobile workforce is raising the risk of companies’ sensitive information being in jeopardy. With each lost or stolen laptop there is the risk that sensitive data about customers, employees and business operations will end up in the wrong hands. The report serves as a benchmark study to determine the total cost associated with a lost or stolen laptop. Check out this infographic we created that captures the key details of the report:

 Cost of a Lost Laptop

As you can see, a simple $700 laptop that is lost is actually much more expensive once you consider the nature of the information contained on the laptop. The more sensitive and valuable the information is, the larger the damage. In fact, laptops stolen that breach HIPPA or other industry specific regulations can cause the cost to raise by six times.

One key security benefit to implementing VDI is having no data physically on the laptop. This means if devices are lost or stolen, you’re protected against sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. This also means that the laptops stolen or lost will be less costly to replace.

Before a laptop, desktop or tablet is damaged, lost or stolen, VDI keeps everything centralized and backed up. Now, when a laptop, desktop or tablet is lost, stolen or damaged, you still have an infrastructure and business keeps running.

Want to Learn More about VDI?

CloudSAFE specializes in hosted Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Our experts would be happy to spend some time discussing it with you and helping you determine if it’s right for your company. Just click on the button below to contact us.

Ask an Expert

Future topics in this series:

  • The Importance of a Business Continuity Plan
  • What does (or should) The Cloud mean to your business?
  • The importance of following the 3-2-1 Rule for Data Backup
  • The importance of annual DR testing (at a minimum)

Tags: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), Managed Virtual Desktop, Desktop as a Service

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