Storage Advances Help Make VDI Reality
New innovations like automated tiered storage, thin provisioning, continuous snapshots and remote replication has companies reconsidering VDI.
- By Lazarus Vekiarides
Desktop virtualization -- a.k.a. virtual desktop infrastructure, the hosting of a desktop OS within a VM running on a hosted, centralized or remote server -- is one of the top three priorities of today's server projects as organizations look for ways to streamline the delivery of IT and better manage increasing security and compliance practices. One of the major challenges in delivering adequate VDI performance and cost efficiencies has been the storage foundation.
At VMworld 2012, Gartner predicted that storage costs will be a bottleneck in virtualization and VDI in one-third of organizations through 2016 and that most VDI deployments on existing storage solutions fail. Gartner recommends new storage solutions to support VDI deployments in the long term.
So having the proper storage selection and sizing can have a big impact on the success of virtual desktop deployments, as well as costs. Storage also needs to address performance issues: I/O storms, many users concurrently booting up, loggin in or out, and so on. Another critical consideration is the need to simplify virtual desktop provisioning and infrastructure management to achieve greater efficiencies and manageability.
Fortunately, new innovations like automated tiered storage, thin provisioning, continuous snapshots and remote replication are making VDI more practical. Multi-tiered hybrid arrays can eliminate the need for storage overprovisioning to meet performance goals. Thin clones can lower the storage footprint by avoiding storage of duplicate data across desktop VMs.
The University of Connecticut turned to a VDI solution supported by advanced storage arrays and blade servers to reduce its reliance on dedicated computer labs and office space while providing its 40,000-plus students, faculty and staff with a more flexible computing experience. Through desktop virtualization, the university is able to provide stable, reliable instructional platforms for instructor and student use both in and out of class. Users are no longer confined to a physical PC in a lab or office, and the virtual labs aren't limited to just the Schools of Business and Engineering. Any affiliate at UConn -- students, faculty and staff -- can access Windows 7-based virtual desktops and UConn-licensed applications from their PCs, Macs and mobile devices, from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.
According to Jeremy Pollack, the director of IT at the UConn School of Business, the storage arrays do a great job of self-load balancing between solid-state disk and SAS disk to mitigate boot storms and provide the storage I/O he needs to run demanding applications in a VDI environment. Across the board, users are seeing great performance.
In many cases, providing a user with a non-persistent, kiosk-style virtual desktop is sufficient. A user logs in, accesses any of the applications needed, and when logging off, the machine goes away. This means UConn doesn't have to tie up a lot of dedicated hardware resources in computer labs and can reduce desktop hardware replacement costs for non- persistent lab environments by 30 to 40 percent. The result is a a $318,000 projected CapEx reduction for School of Business computer labs over five years. The university also is beginning to see a significant savings in OpEx, including desktop support and lab management time.
Businesses also are finding success in deploying storage solutions to support robust VDI environments.
With operations centers in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and Las Vegas, Nevada, Xtium, a managed cloud and infrastructure-as-a-service provider, needed to deliver SAP "test drive" environments complete with Microsoft SQL Server databases to enable SAP customers to try and buy software, while meeting SaaS expectation of swift installation and delivery. To meet SAP's requirements, it needed to fully provision these customers within 24 hours. It upgraded its current solutions for its storage arrays to enable the use of thin clones -- thin-provisioned, writeable copies of data volumes -- and leverage direct integration with their VMware vSphere 4.1 environment with vStorage APIs.
The company now is able to make copies of golden images for SAP customers as well as for its VDI project using optimized disk space. The benefits include: 30x faster provisioning of clones for SAP test drive environments (two minutes vs. one hour); 5x faster copies using Xcopy for single instances of SAP test drives and virtual desktops; 90 percent savings of disk space using thin clones; 50 percent fewer volumes to manage; 72 percent less time to vMotion VMs between physical servers; and 76 percent less time to boot multiple virtual desktops, improving customer service.
The bottom line is that storage isn't a VDI magic bullet, but, by utilizing technologies available today, it can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful desktop virtualization implementation.
Lazarus Vekiarides is the executive director of EqualLogic Software Engineering at Dell.