As employees continue to work remotely, cloud-hosted virtual desktops have become a popular platform to securely deliver the data and applications they need to remain productive.
As a result, virtual desktops have become a mission critical component of many IT environments. Making them resilient, therefore, is an important design consideration when relying on the service for access to corporate applications and data.
Whether your business is starting out with cloud-hosted virtual desktops, such as Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), or has deployed a desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) solution for a while, evaluating your security posture while also addressing resilience with data backup and recovery is advisable.
Here are specific practices regarding all the core components of a cloud-based virtual desktop in Microsoft Azure that help ensure data security:
1) Virtual Desktop Service
When hosting your virtual desktops in the cloud, the cloud provider, in this case Microsoft, manages the service. No additional steps need to be taken to keep this service operating in case of a regional Azure outage.
When an outage occurs in a region, the service infrastructure components will automatically fail over to the secondary location and continue functioning as normal. One can still access service-related metadata, and users can connect to available hosts. End-user connections will stay online if the tenant environment and hosts remain accessible.
Be certain to employ directory and identity best practices. The services responsible for identity management in Azure – Azure AD, Active Directory, or Azure AD DS – are critical components of an AVD environment, as they are responsible for authenticating user logons into domain-joined session host VMs.
It is recommended to use native Azure AD since Microsoft is responsible for keeping this service operational within the provided SLA. If using Active Directory, create multiple AD controllers in multiple regions, and back up the AD system state.
3) Desktop Images
When provisioning new session host capacity, desktop images are critical to the task. They are used to create new session host VMs or to update existing ones with Windows or software updates.
As a backup and recovery best practice, store images with ZRS (Zone Redundant Storage) which will be available during an availability zone failure. It is also wise to use the Azure Compute Gallery to enable geo-replication of desktop images should a single region outage occur.
4) Session Host VMs
Azure VMs are responsible for the delivery of users’ desktops and apps. They must be available for users to be able to connect. In most pooled AVD deployment scenarios, session host VMs are clones of a desktop image and do not contain any unique user data.
Session host VMs running in the datacenter where an outage occurs will go offline. It is recommended to distribute these host VMs across multiple Azure availability zones and across two Azure regions to minimize disruption.
5) FSLogix Profiles
When a user needs to connect to a desktop or remote application, FSLogix profiles provide the user’s Windows profile data. They are vital to supporting remote workflows and should be replicated and available in multiple locations for best resiliency.
To guard against outages, use ZRS storage with Azure Files Premium. Files stored in this manner are not impacted by availability zone failure. However, for an Azure region outage you will need user profile replication.
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Actions Following an Azure Outage
Should an Azure outage occur, the first item to assess is Microsoft’s organization of AVD delivery via Azure regions and availability zones. Regions are a set of datacenters within a defined perimeter while zones are unique physical locations within a region. A zone protects your applications and data from datacenter failures. However, if a zone fails, it is imperative your initial AVD architecture and design has redundancy built in to provide recovery.
If, worst case scenario, an entire region fails, the best disaster recovery strategy is to automatically distribute AVD session hosts across two Azure regions and replicate FSLogix profile data, thereby creating an Active/Active DR configuration. If one of the regions becomes unavailable, VMs in the second region can continue servicing users.
Data Issues without any Outage
Corruption of data, metadata, or resources can also occur without any underlying data center or region outage. Changes are often made to desktop images during the normal course of AVD environment maintenance. It is important to have backups of desktop images to be able to quickly recover from any corruption. Image versioning and use of Azure Compute Gallery or library of images will help manage backup to the right version as needed.
Session host VMs can become unavailable or corrupted in the normal course of operation. It is recommended to leverage self-healing automation that automatically repairs broken session hosts without requiring IT admin action. Corruption of profile containers can also occur. Depending on your FSLogix storage technology choice – configure Azure Backup for Azure Files shares, Azure NetApp Files snapshots, or use any backup method for file server VMs (e.g. Volume Shadow Copies). Restore corrupted profile containers, as needed.
More Remote Work, More AVD
Fortunately, it isn’t too difficult to make AVD a secure and resilient compute environment for your remote workforce. First, be extremely diligent in evaluating your Azure region and availability zone coverage and employing the multiple region and redundancy tools available. Second, if you’re using Active Directory, be sure to have a system backup and restore program in place and replication as well for FSLogix profiles – all of this is aimed at avoiding access lockdown and workflows coming to a halt.
Lastly, think of making AVD security a standard part of your security planning going forward. It will pay off in worker satisfaction, revenue growth and better prepare you to scale AVD in the future.
About the Author:
Vadim Vladimirskiy is the CEO and co-founder of Nerdio.