VDI backup strategies: Copying, storing and securing virtual desktops

If you’re not backing up your virtual desktops, here are a few VDI backup strategies that might make you re-think that decision.

For many IT managers doing VDI, the virtual desktop backup policy is this: they don't. First decide whether it's worth backing up yours, then consider these VDI backup strategies.

If you decide not to back up virtual desktops, think about this: Is that the same call you'd make about your other workstations and laptops? After all, virtual desktops are just like a "normal" desktop to the user, right? They should expect that they're using nothing different than what they would get from a physical desktop.

In some organizations, IT doesn't back up desktops. If that's your environment, then case closed: You probably won't back up virtual desktops either. If, however, your company backs up physical desktops, either by groups or throughout the entire organization, then take a look at how you can back up virtual desktops easily, effectively and securely.

Here's how to develop a solid virtual desktop backup strategy:

Three VDI backup methods

For your virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment, start by considering some of the basic backup technologies that have been around for a while. These include file-level restore, deduplication and disk image backup.

More on VDI backup

How to back up PCs in a virtual desktop infrastructure

Creating a simple VDI backup plan

Some people argue that deduplication doesn't work well for desktop backup. Still, remember that while desktop files are often not as static as ones that reside on say, a server disk, deduplication will still provide benefits around the constant OS and other files that hardly ever get modified. The only reason you'd ever want to turn off deduplication is if it's taking up valuable disk space.

The same way you'd back up virtual servers, your VDI backup plan should include a full disk image backup. That means making a copy of the virtual machine's disk file (.vmdk, .vhd or whatever) so that you can restore a machine from a set state quickly -- by copying the disk image files back to the virtual machine (VM) location. Most full disk image mechanisms also include compression, and some can even split a disk image file into multiple files, making transporting or copying the file easier.

In many situations, you'll simply have to do a file restore for your desktops rather than recover an entire desktop image. For that kind of VDI backup, you need file-level restore (FLR), a capability that comes in many vendors' backup tools, including Veeam, VMware and Quest Software.

In older versions of FLR, you could only do file-level restores for Linux-based VMs. Now, the Windows OS is becoming more widely supported and it's quite easy to do file-level restores using intuitive graphical user interfaces rather than the old method of long command lines.

Where will you store virtual desktops?

An important part of your virtual desktop backup plan is deciding what you'll use to store the backups and how you'll recover those backups. Do you back up to disk only? Storage area network or local disk? Or both? Do you back up to disk first and then copy to tape? Or should you back up straight to tape?

There are lots of options, but one common strategy I've used is to have a full disk image done of the machine (with the file-level restore capability) stored to a direct-attached storage disk. Then, it's deduplicated on its way to the final data resting place, which is tape. There are a few software packages that have these capabilities, including Quest vRanger, CommVault Simpana, Synamtec NetBackup and Veeam Backup & Replication.

Ensuring security with VDI backup

One last thing to consider is security. Does your virtual desktop backup technology contain a way to encrypt backups? Almost all standard network backup packages offer some level of encryption. If you need to ensure security of your backups, either due to internal policy or compliance, check that your desktop backup software has that option.

You'll have a hard time convincing me that complete virtual desktop backups are a necessary business need. Instead, users need to stop storing their personal and business files on their desktops and get them on the network where they belong -- where they are backed up by default. These days, rebuilding a virtual desktop is just a few clicks away, and it makes IT's life much easier if there isn't a lot to recover from users.

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