Cloud staging: A strategy for desktop transformation

In this guest post, Jason E. Smith, vice president of products and solutions at virtual desktop provider Liquidware, makes the case for why enterprises need to embrace cloud staging to make their VDI ambitions a reality

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is tipped for take-off over the coming decade with organisations looking to move 20% of their on-premises virtual desktop users to cloud-based DaaS offerings by 2023, Gartner research suggests.

VMware and Citrix have traditionally led the VDI market, with Amazon WorkSpaces gaining traction in the DaaS space. Now, with Microsoft entering the foray with its Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) offering, we are seeing the cloud-based desktop market starting to offer viable alternative to on-premises virtual desktop options.

The question for many companies, however, is, “how do I migrate my users to a cloud-based desktop?” In fact, the first question really should be, “which users are best suited to a cloud-based desktop?” Cloud Staging is a strategy that takes advantage of the latest cloud technologies to ease your desktop transformations to a new DaaS offering. As centralised storage has matured, you can take advantage of major players such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google to make even physical desktop transformations seamless.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic, I have seen many situations where they are just not prepared to provide a viable work from home or remote working platform for their users. Cloud Staging can circumvent this lack of preparedness by enabling a “switchover” from an on-premises desktop to a cloud-based one to ensure user productivity is not interrupted.

From a user’s perspective there are three ‘ready for cloud’ challenges IT needs to be aware of:

  • Application staging: discover applications in use and deliver them from the cloud
  • User environment staging: harvest user profiles and policies and prepare for a zero-downtime user cut over
  • User authored data staging: ensure mission critical data is not left behind

Let’s take each step above and break them down into what you need to do.

This requires a complete inventory of applications in use. And, of those applications, which ones are going to be compatible with the new operating system. This is also an opportune time to investigate if there is a better way to handle application delivery in the future to reduce management workload.

Your most important customer is your user, so user environment staging is a critical component. You need to be able to accurately capture user profiles from existing Windows sessions. You also need to protect user-authored data by keeping it accurate and secure, with policies following the user not the platform. And, finally, you want to keep your users productive during a migration.

Here are the main things to be cognisant of when preparing your cloud staging best practises:

Application staging

This will require a virtual or layered application delivery solution that supports cloud-hosted applications. Ideally it will support object-based storage solutions (Microsoft Azure Blob, Amazon S3, Google Cloud) so managing file shares and infrastructure in the cloud will not be required.

User profile staging

User profiles should also support object-based storage and they should also support the profile format you are going to. For instance, if you have an old version of Windows 10 then you need to make sure profile version updates will not break your profile staging plans.

User authored data staging

To stage user authored data will require a solution that supports a background sync to file areas where cloud storage services can be leveraged. You’ll want to make sure the solution is compatible with Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon WorkDocs, DropBox and other leading vendors.

Monitor the user experience and progress

The last thing you want to do is hamper user productivity, so be sure to monitor the user experience between desktop platforms so you can prove which desktop offers the best quality. You will also want to monitor the progress of data synchronisation to the cloud. You could use different monitoring solutions and script the completion of data synchronisation to accomplish these but it would be messy at best.

Remember that utilising a cloud staging strategy is not just for enabling working remotely, it can be used for any flavour of desktop transformation. It enables different desktop types to co-exist or lift and shift users to an entirely new desktop platform.

Important user-centric data – such as applications, user authored data, and user profiles – are seamlessly synched and hosted on cloud storage, while users remain productive and ready to logon to their new desktop as soon as required.

When you invoke cloud staging with cloud-centric storage and best practises, as discussed above, you are ensuring your organisation is ready for whatever desktop transformation lies ahead in the remainder of 2020 and beyond.

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