Since it first came on the scene, VDI has had an allure that has many CIOs considering the technology for implementation in their organizations. However, several challenges keep VDI from being a practical solution for many. Fortunately, we’re beginning to see signs of intelligent life in the primordial goo that is VDI.
Several items have created grief in VDI deployments, making CIOs wonder if the technology’s genes were quite as advanced as hoped.
Extraordinary initial costs
Ensuring that the infrastructure is able to support the very different kind of workload of VDI than that seen with server virtualization projects has taken considerable effort. Many VDI projects have suffered because of a lack of focus on what makes VDI different than server virtualization. For example, in server virtualization scenarios, storage doesn’t generally have to be configured around the possibility of boot storms. In VDI, however, this is a common reality that must be overcome.
Overcoming some of the VDI workload parameters has often required substantial infrastructure costs that needed to be able to serve both peak and normal operational usage.
Although VDI can generally support pretty much any kind of endpoint out there, endpoints provided by organizations sometimes lack deployment flexibility and require very traditional-looking configuration. Further, not all endpoints support all common deployment scenarios, a lot of upfront consideration must be given to the platform.
End user experience
For VDI to work in traditional usage scenarios -- think desktop worker here -- the experience must mimic a traditional desktop environment. Again, although vendors have made great strides here, a mix and match process needs to take place. Teradici has PC-over-IP (PCoIP), Wyse has TCX, Citrix has HDX, etc. Further, Microsoft has been continually improving its own multimedia capabilities in RDP, adding such features as RemoteFX.
The Changing Landscape
Fortunately, the VDI goo is evolving towards simplicity and improved operations, making it more viable for more organizations than what we’ve seen in previous generations. Gone are the days when organizations had to spend massive amounts of money to build out a baseline architecture suitable for a VDI deployment that end-users would embrace. This has come through the introduction of a number of different technologies described below.
Addressing cost and performance
As mentioned above, cost and performance issues have hobbled full-scale VDI deployments, but many vendors have assigned pretty smart engineers to these issues and developed a number of different solutions.
Nutanix and Pivot3, for instance, enable organizations to take a more building-block-like approach to implementing VDI projects. With these kinds of products, organizations can operate in more of a “pay as you go” way rather than having to buy complete and expensive environments at the onset of the initiative. These building blocks provide everything necessary to operate a virtual environment, including compute, storage, and hypervisor. Generally, these solutions include a combination of flash and rotational storage —sometimes just flash — and can provide both peak and ongoing operational performance.
New storage options to address performance issues
Even when organizations choose to buy their infrastructure up front as opposed to buying it in building blocks, challenges remain, including the need to ensure that the solution can withstand the abuse that users will inflict upon the hardware. Such abuse includes potentially dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of virtual desktops booting simultaneously and subjecting the storage to what have become known as “boot storms” and “login storms”. New storage options combine enough flash-based storage to handle these regular peaks and enough rotational storage to handle the storage needs of the desktop environment.
New software enhancements
Besides some great new and emerging hardware options, software vendors are also getting into the game and enhancing their software to address some of the common performance problems associated with VDI.
VMware View 5.1, in particular, tackles the boot storm issue head-on through a new feature called the View Storage Accelerator (VSA). This caches commonly used blocks in RAM — which remains the fastest kind of storage out there — and serves these blocks as necessary. This feature can dramatically reduce the storage impact of VDI deployments and bring them back down to earth from a performance perspective. Brian Madden has gone into great detail about why he likes VSA and has also gone into detail about an erroneous assumption he initially made about the technology. It’s a good read.
Microsoft, too, is getting into the game with major enhancements to its Remote Desktop Services offering, making improvements to WAN performance, extending RemoteFX to use multiple codecs and has simplified the deployment experience for the service.
Emerging endpoints increase flexibility
As wonderful as it is to see the various strands of DNA coming together to form the genes for VDI on the infrastructure side of the house, the endpoint equation is also evolving. You already know that there are clients out there for many different devices and quite a few terminals that can replicate the desktop experience, and terminals are entering the market that take “thin” to a whole new level, at least from a power perspective.
When it comes to power usage, not much will beat a new offering from HP. Dubbed the t410, this new terminal is an all-in-one unit and includes an 18.5” monitor along with software that allows it to automatically sense the kind of environment into which its being deployed. Moreover, this unit can be powered using nothing more than an Ethernet cable, making it a fully functional, power-sipping appliance that can be deployed anywhere where there is a network connection and PoE-enabled network. While this is a first-gen unit like this and there will probably be kinks to work out, it’s certainly a step in a great direction when it comes to VDI. Now, IT really does just set a terminal somewhere and walk away. It can’t get much easier than that.
Although this is not necessarily an earth-shattering development, it’s one more evolution that helps VDI gain inroads into the enterprise.
Unfortunately, some facts are not kind to long-term survival of the VDI organism. The primary culprit here is software license. Microsoft still imposes its “VDA tax”, and many software vendors continue to consider VDI deployments as somehow different than other use cases and attempt to extort additional fees from customers wishing to move to this model. Customers will need to be vigilant to ensure that they remain within licensing guidelines and push VDI-hostile vendors to adopt friendlier stances on licensing in order to continue the proliferation of this technology.
Action Item: For CIOs that have been fence sitting on VDI, now is the time to renew your interest and see if the current VDI ecosystem has evolved to a point where the organization can rely on it. Take a look at the various building block products that are available and keep an eye on enhanced features making their way into various products. Further, give a second look to the device market and see if, when everything is combined, you’re able to give life to a full-fledged VDI solution in your organization.