Engineer’s Corner – Data Center
With the novel coronavirus rampaging around the world, businesses have been forced to confront a new reality on how to manage their workforce. In order to protect public health, most state and municipalities have issued “stay-at-home” recommendations and shuttered non-essential businesses to minimize the transmission of this virus. While necessary for public health, these same actions have indisputably disrupted how we work. Conference calls have taken the place of in-person meetings as telecommuting has become the norm, rather than an exception.
For businesses that did not have a solution in place, the speed for these changes has been absolutely shocking. Decisions that would normally take months had to be made on the fly, and they’ve led to unexpected vulnerabilities that have compromised the security of their data.
Cybercriminals have taken notice of this haste and ramped up their assaults. Ransomware attacks have risen to an all-time high as they try to exploit the situation for their advantage, and with IT trying to secure endpoints not only in the data center, but also in people’s homes, the attack surface area has never been greater. Home networks have always notoriously been susceptible to cyber attacks as they’ve largely been ignored by corporate governance security rules. Most home networks are running out of date firmware, and many are only protected by a weak password. However, with workers now working from home, these networks have become perfect staging areas for cyber attacks, only needing to wait for the user to VPN so that they can get access to the corporate network, and data.
Securing these endpoints thus has become especially critical, and reducing the time to do so critically important. For IT decision makers, not only will they be pressured to solve the problems from the current crisis, but also lay the groundwork in place to make the company better able to persist against possible future events. Furthermore, workers will undoubtedly ask for greater work from home flexibility, which means that any solution they look for needs to provide security both for the short and long term.
Virtual desktops (VDI) provide an interesting and compelling way to solve both of these problems. Because the desktops exist in the datacenter, no data ever leaves the security boundary already established by corporate policies. While the end user endpoint security can never be ignored, having users log into their VDI session instead of doing their work on their laptops greatly increases the resilience of the IT environment and decreases the vulnerability from those extra endpoints. Furthermore, VDI environments can be configured to destroy the instance after the user logs off. This effectively prevents any bad actor from exploiting an attack beach head beyond the user session. By providing a much more hostile environment for criminals to attack, attacks can be deterred before they even begin.
Traditionally, a VDI environment has suffered from having a large initial purchase price and a long lead up time to make sure that the environment is sufficiently stable and secure for users. While deployments have been accelerated with the introduction of hyperconverge platforms such as Hyperflex, it still takes time to properly validate and assess the environment. For organizations responding to the rapid pace of the COVID-19 coronavirus, these properties make VDI a non-starter, as they need the solution in place yesterday. Luckily, developments in cloud computing have provided a quick stopgap to solve this problem. Microsoft has started offering Windows Virtual Desktop on their Azure platform while Amazon offers Amazon WorkSpaces on AWS. This has significantly reduced the amount of time required to spin up VDI instances, with some of our customers moving their workforce over the span of a few hours. As they now offer GPU acceleration, users often enjoy on par, if not better, performance compared to their physical laptops.
While VDI may not be the solution to all of the problems we’re encountering, it is in my opinion an invaluable component to solving the puzzle put forth to IT organizations today. Like any preventative action, it may be hard to assess whether we ever do too much, but it will be painfully obvious if we do too little. And with VDI available in the cloud, there is little reason to explore whether VDI is the right solution for you.
– Michael Chen, Data Center Practice Director
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