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Handling Increased WFH Demands with VDI and Cloud Volumes ONTAP

The last few weeks events has reshuffled the deck and it’s not at all clear when we will be able to resume normal patterns of interaction and mobility. As enterprises struggle to maintain business continuity despite the lockdown that has been put in place in most countries, working from home (WFH) is one of the leading strategies.

It is difficult to quantify how many people are working from home today, but on March 11, IEEE published the results of a survey that showed that the vast majority of the workforces in mega enterprises like Amazon (76.1%), Microsoft (81.3%), Facebook (55.1%), LinkedIn (80.6%), Expedia (84.1%), and Uber (58.1%)  were already working remotely. The very next day CNN reported that Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Twitter have also made WFH mandatory.

This sharp and dramatic rise in WFH, which also includes IT personnel, has put tremendous pressure on infrastructures and resources, with four challenges coming to the fore: keeping up with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) demands, file share scalability, availability and continuity, and automated resource provisioning. In this article we will explain what is VDI, look at each challenge in depth, and show how NetApp’s Cloud Volumes ONTAP data management solution can help.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure: The Key to Virtualizing Workplaces

What is VDI? A VDI environment consists of end-user devices that securely connect to a backend infrastructure of servers (file, application, content). The result is a virtual desktop that behaves just like a regular desktop on which apps have actually been installed and data is stored locally. When the VDI session is terminated, all persistent information—such as files and end-user application customizations—are stored so that the desktop is restored seamlessly at the next logon.

Although VDI can be self-hosted, cloud-hosted VDI offers many advantages in terms of costs, scalability and security. Yet even cloud-hosted VDI faces a number of challenges when IT teams must dramatically and quickly ramp up VDI capacity in order to meet skyrocketing WFH demands.

Some of the challenges of running a VDI include:

  • End-user performance problems (such as inability to connect, high latency, and inability to access certain applications) due to the huge volumes and diversity of access devices and connectivity infrastructures.
  • Monitoring and control challenges due to limited visibility into the underlying infrastructure resources, especially in hybrid and multicloud architectures.
  • No cloud native support for the SMB file shares that figure prominently in VDI solutions.

How One Company Used Cloud Volumes ONTAP to Enhance VDI to Meet Increased WFH Demands

In the ongoing crisis, companies are trying to act fast to ensure their VDIs can meet the increased usage and demand. Here is a case study of one company that turned to Cloud Volumes ONTAP to overcome their VDI ramp-up challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

This company is a prominent US financial advisory enterprise that serves 140+ countries and markets with a global workforce of 45,000. They had already been using Cloud Volumes ONTAP for Azure to meet their data retention, backup, disaster recovery (DR) and availability use cases, while their self-hosted VDI solution was using NetApp on-prem arrays to handle the SMB/CIFS file sharing element. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the company’s internal IT team had to expand overnight the capacity of their self-hosted VDI environment in order to meet the needs of thousands of employees beginning to work from home. That’s when they turned to Cloud Volumes ONTAP.

Using the flexible and cost-effective pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) model, it took the company’s IT team just over 24 hours to deploy three new instances of Cloud Volumes ONTAP across three different Azure regions, replicate their on-premises VDI data to the cloud instances, and configure the instance parameters to match their on-premises environment, ensuring that the company’s global standards are maintained.

The immediate benefits the company gained from deploying their VDI with Cloud Volumes ONTAP include:

  • Being able to burst into Azure quickly and agilely to meet the WFH VDI demands when the capacity of the self-hosted environment reaches its limit.
  • Seamless transfer of VDI data to and from the cloud with no need for re-formatting, using SnapMirror® data replication.
  • Enterprise-grade protection of VDI data in the cloud: Encryption of data at rest as well as automated backups using point-in-time incremental NetApp Snapshot™ technology.

Scalability

Life is even more dynamic than usual at the moment. Even in the best of times unpredictable cloud usage places enormous storage scalability demands on the environment. The current shift to WFH means that, more than ever, enterprises must be able to agilely scale cloud storage capacity up and out, without impacting performance. 

The Cloud Volumes ONTAP data management platform, which runs as an instance on AWS, Azure or Google Cloud Platform, supports enterprise-grade, scalable, and agile cloud data management in the following ways:

  • A flexible licensing model to cost-effectively and dynamically provision storage resources as usage rates fluctuate.
  • Easy instance and volume management, with the ability to change instance types, aggregate volumes per disk type, dynamically resize or expand volumes, and cost-effectively create read-only or writable volume clones.
  • Built-in storage efficiencies optimize the storage footprint so that the enterprise can do more with its provisioned resources (and thus mitigate the need for scaling):
    • In-line data compression, deduplication and compaction can reduce the storage footprint by as much as 70%, depending on the workload.
    • Automatic data tiering between capacity storage for infrequently used data and performance storage for active data.
    • Thin provisioning dynamically allocates storage space from a single physical storage pool to each volume as data is written. 

Read more about the Scalability and Agility Capabilities of Cloud Volumes ONTAP.

High and Continuous Availability

When employees are working remotely from home, any interruption or downtime is going to cause uncertainty and delays. It is also more difficult for dispersed IT teams to manage and remediate the event. And most importantly, downtime at a medical institution at this point in time could be critical. Thus, it is important to build high availability into the environment as well as implement robust measures that ensure quick times to remediation, with minimal loss of data.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP supports these requirements in a number of ways. The Cloud Volumes ONTAP HA configuration builds redundancy into the environment by deploying two independent storage nodes, optionally in different regions, and writing data simultaneously to both. If one node fails, the other takes over immediately, with zero data loss. As far as the end-users are concerned, it is business as usual.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP also provides a robust and cost-effective cloud storage disaster recovery (DR) solution. For both Azure and AWS, NetApp SnapMirror replication technology uses NetApp’s point-in-time incremental Snapshot technology to create and maintain a cloud-based DR copy of a primary dataset. In the case of a failure, Cloud Volumes ONTAP fails over automatically to the DR replica. When access to the primary dataset is restored, it is automatically synced with the DR copy and the system fails back to the primary dataset.

Last but not least, Cloud Volumes ONTAP offers enterprise-grade cloud file shares. Cloud native file shares have yet to achieve the scalability and availability of on-premises enterprise file sharing. The added value of deploying with Cloud Volumes ONTAP means avoiding capacity limits and gaining built-in multiprotocol file access, ease of use, and exclusive storage efficiencies that keep storage costs from skyrocketing.

With Cloud Volumes ONTAP your cloud file shares will be easily and reliably accessible to your WFH employees, with the following key features:

  • Support for both the NFS and SMB/ CIFS file share protocols.
  • Powerful file share synchronization among regions, clouds, and on-premises systems, using SnapMirror’s incremental data replication capability.
  • All the usual Cloud Volumes ONTAP benefits of high levels of security (data encryption), HA, data protection, and more.

IT and Storage Automation

IT teams, many of whom are also working remotely, are being pushed to the limit to keep WFH infrastructures up and running and meet cloud storage challenges. Automated data management processes are key to avoiding provisioning bottlenecks, as well as costly downtime, failures, data loss, and so on.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP NetApp Cloud Manager supports automation in a number of ways:

  • Single-pane visibility into and management of both on-premises and cloud storage environments.
  • Easy REST API integration for programmatic control over cloud storage management processes.
  • Integrated with infrastructure-as-code tools such as Ansible and Terraform to automate processes.
  • Automated data protection measures such as Snapshot copies, DR and backups through policies and schedules.
  • Integration with the organization’s DevOps stack to automate the storage of CI/CD pipelines.

Summary

What is VDI? Right now, it’s a lifeline. Now is the time to ensure that it will remain operable with the immense WFH demands due to the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 crisis. A key part to ensuring a VDI that is automated, scalable, protected, and highly available is the data management toolset of Cloud Volumes ONTAP.

While the safety of every individual is of the utmost importance, keeping the systems those people will depend on in the crisis running successfully is also going to help save lives. Cloud Volumes ONTAP helps you do that with the ability to support VDI, scale up storage on demand, ensure data is never lost and site downtime is minimal, and that processes are seamless, repeatable, and automatic.

Ensure your enterprise’s functionality in the COVID-19 crisis, try a free trial of Cloud Volumes ONTAP now.

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