A VDI Reality Check @ BriForum 2011 For Resource Hungry Desktops In A Demanding Environment

So what did we notice? VDI generates enough interest from various angles that is for sure. Both on the demand side as on the (re)seller & integrator side. Most storage vendors are bullish enough to claim that they can handle whatever IOPS required to get the most bang for the buck but only the smaller or newest players where present and engaged in interaction with the attendees. One thing is for sure VDI has some serious potential but it has to be prepared well and implemented thoroughly. Don’t do it over the weekend and see if it works out for all your users Smile

The amount of tools & tactics for VDI on both the storage side and the configuration/management side is both more complex and diverse than with server virtualization.  The possible variations on how to tackle a VDI project are almost automatically more numerous as well. This is due to the fact that desktops are often a lot more complex and heterogenic in nature than server side apps. On top of that the IO on a desktop can be quite high. Some of it can be blamed on the client OS but lots of that has to do with the applications and utilities used on desktops.  I think that developers had so many resources at their disposal that there wasn’t to much pressure on optimization there. The age of multi cores and x64 bit will  help in thinking more about how and application uses CPY cycles but virtualization might very well help in abstracting that away. When a PC has one vCPU and the host has 4*8 cores, how good is that hyper visor at using all that pCPU power to address the needs of that one vCPU?  But I digress. All in all it takes more effort and complexity to do VDI than server virtualization. So there is a higher cost or at least the APEX isn’t such a convincing clear cut story as it is with server virtualization. If you’re not doing the latter today when and where you can you are missing out of a major number of benefits that are just to good to ignore. I wouldn’t dare say that for VDI. Threating VDI just like server virtualization is said to be one of the main reasons of VDI failing or being put on hold or being limited to a smaller segment of the desktop population.

My experience with server virtualization is also with rather heterogenic environments where we have VMs with anything between 1 and 4 virtual CPUs, 2 to 12 GB of RAM. And yet I have to admit it has been a great success. Never the less I can’t say that helped me much in my confidence that a large part of our desktop environment can be virtualized successfully and cost effectively as I think that our desktops are such vicious resource hogs they need another step forward in raw power and functionality versus cost. Let briefly describe the environment. 85% of the workforce at my current gig have dual 24” wide screens, with anything between 4GB to 8 GB of RAN,Quad Core CPUs and SCSI / SATA 10.000 RPM disks with anything between 250 GB to 1TB local storage in combination with very decent GPUs. Now the employees run Visual Studio, SQL Server, multiple CAD & GIS packages and various specialized image processing software that gauges image and other files that can be 2GB or even higher. If they aren’t that large than they are still very numerous. On top of that 1Gbps network to the desktop is the only thing we offer anymore. So this is not a common office suite plus a couple of LOB applications order, this is a large and rich menu for a very hard to please audience. That means that if you ask them what they want, they only answer more, more, more … And I won’t even mention 3D screens & goggles.

Now I know that X amount of time the machines are idle or doing a lot less but in the end that’s just a very nice statistic. When a couple of dozen users start playing around with those tools and throw that data around you still need them and their colleagues to be happy customers. Frankly even with the physical hardware that hey have now that can be a challenge. And please don’t start about better, less resource wasting applications and such. You can’t just f* the business and tell them to get or wait for better apps. That flies in the face of reality. You have to be able to deliver the power where and when needed with the software they use. You just can’t control the entire universe.

I heard about integrators achieving 40-60 VMs per host in a VDI project. Some customers can make due with Windows 7 and 1GB of RAM. I’m not one of those. I think the guys & gals of the service desk would need armed escorts if we rolled that out to the employees they care for. One of the things I notice is that a lot of people choose to implement storage just for VDI. I’m not surprised. But until now I’ve not needed to do it. Not even for databases and other resource hogs. Separate clusters, yes, as the pCPU/vCPU ratio and Memory requirements differ a lot from the other servers. The fact that the separate cluster uses other HBA’s en LUNS also helps.

Next to SANs local storage for VDI is another option for both performance and cost. But for recovery this isn’t quite that good a solution. The idea of having non persistent disks (in a pool) or a combination of that with persistent disk is not something I can see fly with our users. And frankly a show of hands at BriForum seems to indicate that this isn’t very wide spread. VDI takes really high performance storage, isolated from your server virtualization to make it a success. On top of that if you need control, rapid provisioning, user virtualization &  workspace management in a layered/abstracted way. Lost of interest there but again, yet more tools to get it done. Then there is also application virtualization, terminal service based solutions etc. So we get a more involved, divers and expensive solution compared to server virtualization. Now to offset these costs we need to look at what we can gain. So where do the benefits to be found?

With non persistent disk you have a rapid provisioning of know good machines in a pool but your environment must accept this and I don’ see this flying well in face of the reality of consumerization of ICT. De-duplication and thin provisioning help to get the storage needs under control but the bigger the client side storage needs and the more diverse these are the less gains can be found there. Better control, provisioning, resource sharing, manageability, disaster recovery, it is all possible but it is all so very specific to the environment compared to server virtualization and some solutions contradict gains that might have been secured with other approaches (disaster recovery, business continuity with SAN versus local storage). One of the most interesting possibilities for the environment I described was perhaps doing virtualization on the client. I look at it as booting from VHD in the Windows 7 era but on steroids. If you can save guard the images/disks on a SAN  with de-duplication & thin provisioning you can have high availability & business continuity as loosing the desktops is a matter of pushing to VM to other hardware which due to abstraction by virtualization should be a problem. It also deals with the network issues of VDI, a hidden bottle neck as most people focus on the storage. Truth be told, the bandwidth we consume is that big, it could be that VDI might have it best improvements for us on that front.

Somewhat surprising was that Microsoft, whilst being really present at PubForum in Dublin, was nowhere to be seen at BriForum. Citrix was saving it’s best for their own conference (Synergy) I think. To bad, I mean when talking about VDI in 2011 we’re talking about Windows 7 for the absolute majority of implementations and Citrix has a strong position in VDI really giving VMware a un for their money. Why miss the opportunity? And yesterday at TechEd USA we heard about the HSBC story of a 100.000 seat VDI solution on Hyper-V http://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/press/2011/may11/05-16TechEd11PR.mspx.

On a side note I wish I would/could have gone to PubForum as well. Should have done that Smile. Now these musings are based upon what I see at my current place of endeavor. VDI has a time and place where it can provide significant operational and usage advantages to make the business case for VDI. Today, I’m not convinced this is the case for our needs at this moment in time. looking at our refresh schedule we’ll probably pass on a VDI solution for the coming one. But booting from VHD as  a standard in the future… I’m going to look into that, it will be a step towards the future I think.

To conclude BriForum 2011 was a good experience and the smaller scale of it makes for good and plenty of opportunities for interaction and discussion. A very positive note is that most vendors & companies present where discussing real issues we all face. So it was more than just sales demos. Brian, nice job.

BriForum 2011 Europe Here I Come

As you might have read a in previous blog and noticed in the side bar, I’m of to London (UK) to attend  BriForum 2011 Europe. It’s time to get away from the wide screens overlooking my ICT empire toys and broaden my horizons  For those who think the cloud is going to take away your job … think again, I’m getting busier than ever. The reality is that we just can’t push a button and have everything up an running in the cloud. Greenfield projects and start ups might beat existing infrastructure & application architecture over the head with cloud and make those businesses run harder for their money but they will run and compete. That race will produce a huge workload.

So I’m of to dive into some sessions on Cloud, Server & Application Virtualization, VDI … should make for some interesting days. I hope to be able to talk to lots of people with a variety of experience to help find out new or alternate way to address some issues (or challenges) we need to tackle in the years ahead. Subjects like Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity, application aware storage in a virtualized environment, Geo Clustering, Site Recovery, … should gives us ample to discuss. Give us a shout if you’re there. It’s also a nice opportunity to meet up with some fellow bloggers and twitter. acquaintances.

A colleague of mine is heading to the USA, Atlanta to attend TechEd 2011 USA. So he’s crossing the big pond to get some brand new info on the latest and the greatest in Microsoft technologies on the IT Pro side of the business.

So of to London I go, onwards & always going forward in IT as there is no turning back Smile I’ll keep you posted when I find the time to do so. 

BriForum Europe 2011 & The Experts Conference Europe 2011

Great news from the educational & conference front. First of all, I’m attending BriForum in London, United Kingdom in May (http://briforum.com/Europe/index.html).  That’s good news, normally we’d have to pop over the big pond to go to that one, so this is pretty neat. And timely, due to some prospecting I’m doing for Disaster Recovery,  Business continuity, application aware storage in a virtualized environment It’s a good match and I hope to get in to some educational discussions about the challenges we all face. Some of the storage vendors we’re interested in are there as well so there is certainly some potential to make it a good experience.

And just recently confirmed that The Experts Conference is coming to Europe. TEC2011 Europe will be held in Frankfurt, Germany from October 17th to October 19th 2011. This conference is high quality and created to fill the needs of the most experienced users, which is one of the reasons I would like to attend. The more you learn & grown the more you bump into the next level of challenges and being able to learn form high level content and interact with experienced speakers and attendees who are dealing with the same issues can be very rewarding. Attendees of TechEd have a way to measure the level of the sessions, well, they are all supposed to be Level 400 only. Quest is hosting this, so they certainly should be able to round up the expertise.  I’m going to make it to the new “track” at this conference and that’s “Virtualization & Cloud”. More information can be found here http://www.theexpertsconference.com/europe/2011/virtualization-cloud-training/overview/

The timing of these conferences is pretty good. As I said we’re doing a lot of prospecting right now and hope to get a lot of information from attending these. For anyone interested why I attend conferences and why I think they are valuable see mu blog post on this subject https://blog.workinghardinit.work/2010/06/05/why-i-find-value-in-a-conference/

Windows 2008 R2 SP1 – RemoteFX Hardware To Get The Needed GPU Performance

When the first information about RemoteFX in Windows 2008 R2 SP1 Beta became available a lot of people busy with VDI solutions found this pretty cool and good news. It’s is a very much needed addition in this arena. Now after that first happy reaction the question soon arises about how the host will provide all that GPU power to serve a rich GUI experience to those virtual machines. In VDI solutions you’re dealing with at least dozens and often hundreds of VM’s. It’s clear, when you think about it, that just the onboard GPU won’t hack it. And how many high performance GPU can you put into a server? Not many or not even none depending on the model. So where does the VDI hosts in a cluster get the GPU resources? Well there are some servers that can contain a lot of GPUs. But in most cases you just add GPU units to the rack which you attach to the supported server models. Such units exist for both rack servers and for blade servers. Dell has some info up on this over here here. The specs on the  the PowerEdge C410x, a 3U, external PCIe expansion chassis by DELL can be found following this link C410x. It’s just like with external DAS Disk bays. You can attach one or more 1U / 2U servers to a chassis with up to 16 GPUs. They also have solutions for blade servers. So that’s what building a RemoteFX enabled VDI farm will look like. Unlike some of the early pictures showing a huge server chassis in order to make room to stuff all those GPU’s cards the reality will be the use of one or more external GPU chassis, depending on the requirements.