White Paper

Work-Stations: Disaster Recovery's Untouched Opportunity

Managed Services, Backup And Recovery, And Networking News From September 2015

Often, the mention of Disaster Recovery produces thoughts of monsoons and hurricanes, complete chaos, no power, etc. In reality, for many businesses a disaster is simply as an event that creates an inability for the business to function. Disasters come in many shapes and sizes – the natural disasters we all think about, but also chemical spills, building fires, broken water pipes, and, on a much smaller scale, a virus-infected server.

When you ask a company about their IT disaster recovery plans, you’ll inevitably hear about backups of data and servers, use of server virtualization, even hot or cold disaster sites. But rarely do you hear about workstations. And that’s odd, because while it’s great that a company can get all their IT infrastructure back up and running, if there are no client machines to connect to the infrastructure, what good is it?

At best, workstations are an afterthought. But the reality is without them, a business simply cannot operate.

Even IT Professionals are guilty of being ill-prepared when it comes to workstations. Many of you may lean back on the “we have a workstation image” line of thinking, but it’s worth considering that, while an image may serve as the basis for a workstation, a given machine usually has been modified from the image by either managed changes, such as Group Policies, scripts, manual updates, etc. or by unmanaged changes – a.k.a., the user of that workstation customizing it to their liking. For a user to be productive, they need a workstation recovered to as close to the last known state as is possible.

If you need you need to reestablish each workstation back to this point, then the image simply won’t cut it.

The goal of this whitepaper is to introduce you to cloud-based backup and recovery as your most comprehensive, most reliable, highest available, and fastest means to recover workstations and to prepare you for conveying the value to your company. We’ll do so by establishing what needs to be recovered, discussing the ways you can recover a complete workstation (with pros and cons of each), and covering when you will need to recover a workstation.

What's In A Workstation?

When considering the recovery of a workstation, let’s start by thinking of it in three parts:

  1. OPERATING SYSTEM
  2. APPLICATIONS
  3. PERSONAL SETTINGS

Each of these parts is necessary to, in sum total, create a secure and productive working environment for the user.

The OS is the obvious winner of the “most critical” award. Recovery needs to consider not just the basic OS, but the current version of the OS, including patches and updates. That means you have to hit a constantly moving target. Also, different parts of your business may require a different OSes to accommodate application, security or accessibility requirements, so you’ll need to consider, in extreme disaster cases, the recovering more of than one type of OS.

Applications are in a similar situation. As business needs change, versions of applications are updated, applications are replaced with competing applications, and no two departments use all the same applications. One part of accounting may be using version 11 of the accounting app because they haven’t been upgraded like the other half that are on version 12.

Every workstation OS and the corresponding specific applications need to be considered; it’s more than just installing Office.

Personal settings are a bit of a conundrum – how much value should you place on them? Can users work efficiently and effectively without them or do they need their exact old environment to function? Consider the value of a single shortcut, say, on the desktop of a Windows 7 machine (the most prominent OS in use at the time of this paper’s writing). What’s it worth to the business (and, therefore, is it worth recovering)? Take this example on the right about a deskshortcut to see the value in every part of personal settings:

The story could keep going on, but even this much helps make the point that something so seemingly insignificant as a shortcut has now taken up about 10 minutes of two people’s time in your organization. What’s that worth? Now apply this example to drive mappings, printers, application settings, saved passwords in a web browser, and more. Each of these small parts of the overall user workspace will add up to a lot of lost time and productivity if not recovered.

Recovering The Workstation: Let Me Count The Ways

This is the point when the conversation usually turns to talking about using images.

IT professionals are usually big on standardization, which is perfect for images. Or is it? The problem with using images – even those that are standardized – is an image meets the business needs at the time it was created and not necessarily today. Business and security needs change, which results in patches and updates being applied. Users are constantly customizing their personal settings, moving farther and farther away from the standard.

So, if you want to stick to your guns about imaging, you’ll be pushing images of machines down, then requiring them to update, then need to install or update applications, and then somehow push out a (presumably) backed up copy of personal settings. This doesn’t sound like the fast and effective way to recover workstations and make money doing it.

Virtualization is another possibility. Many of you may mandate servers to be virtualized for easier recovery, monitoring and management, so building a workstation farm could be a possibility. If this idea resonates with you, it would stand to reason that you wouldn’t be creating exact duplicates of each and every workstation (complete with personal settings) but, instead, creating a standard virtual image for accounting, sales, marketing, etc. Applications would need to be installed, personal settings would likely be largely dismissed, and users would need a hardware or software-based thin client to access the virtual workstation.

To be effective, this would need to be lying in wait or you’ll be investing as much time as you would have imaging hardware and software costs to setup the virtualization in the first place.

Lastly, there’s cloud-based backup. With a virtually unlimited storage capacity, block-level backups for small daily transmission sizes and the potential for a hybrid implementation that includes on-premises backups for fast (and redundant) restores, cloud backup presents itself as a viable method of backing up every workstation.

Restores would comprehensively put each workstation back into its unique last known state, including OS, applications and personal settings.

Table 1 shows a number of ways you could recover workstations after a disaster.

Conclusion

By ensuring your company has a comprehensive disaster recovery solution, you are ensuring that the business keeps running. There’s nothing more solidifying in a business relationship than you having your company’s back.

Workstations are the obvious red-headed stepchild of disaster recovery. They need to be a part of the plan to effectively get a business running again. You’ll need to convince your company of the need to include them, the challenges of users being effective with only a base environment instead of their workstation, and the benefits of completely getting all of the business back to a pre-disaster state.

Once you’ve cleared this hurdle, it’s obvious hybrid cloud backup and recovery is the best option not only for your company (which benefits from the most reliable, secure and fast recovery method available), but also for you, as it reduces labor time and provides the highest level of service.