In-Depth

Qlogic FabricCache Makes Virtual Desktops a Reality

Surviving 8:05 a.m.: One school district's journey implementing VDI.

The western Pennsylvania school district of Titusville faced a combination of IT challenges all too common in the K-12 space: aging PCs, tight budgets, and overworked IT staff. The district's two-person IT team worked out of a classroom-turned-server-room at Titusville High School, serving 2,200 K-12 students across six campuses. Every three years, the Titusville School District replaced 50 percent of its computers. Still, as machines aged, startup times were reaching seven minutes, frustrating teachers and students and wasting valuable class time.

Director of Technology John Frye knew VDI offered a way to ease IT workload and extend the life of his the district's 1,400 desktop and laptop machines. But, would the up-front costs of implementing VDI put the solution out of reach?

Frye turned to virtualization solution provider CrossIT and its VDI tool of choice QLogic FabricCache adapters. "FabricCache is one of the flagship components of CrossIT's VDI solution, and virtualization in general," says Thomas Breakiron, CrossIT manager of technical services.

Breakiron agrees that the up-front costs of VDI can be daunting. "VDI requires storage solutions with many high-performance hard disk drives to effectively replace desktop PCs." CrossIT's creative alternative was a VDI implementation comprising VMware Horizon View desktop virtualization software, ACNC JetStor storage arrays, and a handful of FabricCache adapters.

"FabriCache was really the silver bullet for slaying the problem because it gave us a way to make a commodity SAN," says Breakiron. "We're using very basic, efficient storage arrays; but, when you put FabriCache in front of them, the performance is really incredible." 

Engineering for 5 Percent
On the whole, Titusville students use common applications: Microsoft Office and a handful of browsers. "The problem is Windows itself," says Breakiron. "Improperly engineered, this system would absolutely fail every morning at 8:05 when the students boot up all those machines."

In fact, the system needed to withstand the same burst every 45 minutes when students log out, change classes, and log back in. "You need to engineer the system for 5 percent of the day -- but it's a crushing 5 percent," says Breakiron. "This system could run without FabriCache, but it would never survive 8:05 a.m.; it would never survive what happens every 45 minutes."

A Fresh Start
Since the VDI implementation, life has changed dramatically for Titusville's IT staff. Before VDI, the two-person team spent most of its time re-imaging machines and swapping out hard drives. "We had to fix a computer every time someone downloaded a virus or malware," says Frye. "We were swamped."

No longer requiring ever-increasing amounts of processing power and memory to run applications, those old PCs due for replacement gained new life as dumb displays. Each user gets a fresh copy of Windows and a fresh set of applications each time they log in. When they log out, the apps and OS are purged, and the next user gets a fresh copy. "A user could do the worst possible things to that copy of Windows and those apps – erase them even," says Breakiron. "The only time IT has to touch a computer is if it physically breaks."

Students also see a difference. Not only are they not wasting valuable class time booting their computers, they have the option of using their own computers or devices. "Students can access a school desktops from home, and get exactly the same quality experience they do at school," says Breakiron. "Even if they have a slow or outdated computer at home, as long as they have an Internet connection that is within reason, they can call this up right through Firefox, IE, Chrome, or Safari." Students can even print to the printers at school.

Upshot
Even though the improvement in application performance is impressive, Breakiron believes that the $500,000 budget is what makes this implementation special. "Without FabricCache, we would've been looking at $500,000 just for EMC equipment, plus another few hundred thousand dollars with Dell, and another few hundred thousand with VMware. The project would have still happened because it was necessary, but it would have happened on a much smaller scale."

About the Author

Christa Ayer is a freelance technology writer based in Seattle, Wash.

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