Dan's Take

CTERA: Companies Are Getting VDI Wrong

Does CTERA's answer get it right?

CTERA's Senior Vice President of Marketing, Jeff Denworth, spent some time chatting about the impact of storage on the performance in virtual desktop environments (VDI). His take is that many organizations are supporting these configurations all wrong. Read on for my take.

A VDI Overview
First, we need to define terms. VDI uses several types of virtualization technology, including access virtualization, application virtualization and processing virtualization, to establish centralized control of desktop and laptop systems. Depending upon the configuration, applications or, perhaps, complete system images may be executing on the local desktop or laptop system, on a workgroup server or back in the organization's data center.

Access virtualization technology may be used to provide a reliable, secure access mechanism, making it possible for people to remotely access either a virtualized application or an entire virtualized system. The people may be accessing the workload or desktop system image from a desktop, laptop, tablet or even a smartphone. The application or desktop system image may have no idea this is happening. Suppliers such as Citrix, Microsoft and VMware offer this type of technology.

Application virtualization technology may be used to encapsulate an application so that it can either be delivered to a remote desktop or laptop system and execute there, or allow it to execute on a remote server. Depending upon the application virtualization technology in use, it may also make it possible for applications designed for one operating system to execute happily on a different version of that operating system, or, perhaps, a different operating system entirely. This means that a Windows XP application might continue to function even though it's really being hosted on a local Windows 7 or Windows 8 system or a remote Windows Server. Suppliers such as AppZero, Citrix, Microsoft or VMware offer this type of technology.

Processing virtualization technology may be used to encapsulate an entire desktop operating system and all its applications. Once the image is encapsulated in a virtual machine, it can execute locally on a nearby desktop or laptop system, remotely on a company's own servers, or remotely on a server living in a cloud service provider's data center. People can access this image using access virtualization technology. Citrix, Microsoft, VMware and a number of different open source communities offer this type of software.

I/O Storms and VDI
Denworth spent a great deal of time reviewing the problems organizations are having with their VDI performance. A major issue, he pointed out, is the I/O storms that occur when staff arrive in the morning and all turn on their systems at once.

All those systems reach out to the storage servers or storage on general-purpose systems and ask that an application, a VM image or a VM image along with a set of applications be downloaded. This puts stress on the organization's network and storage infrastructure.

Rather than use a storage system designed for VDI, many turn to expensive flash storage systems to address their storage performance problems. While this approach improves overall storage performance, he points out, it does so at great cost; additionally, this approach does little to address the impact on the network.

He suggests that organizations would be wise to deploy intelligent storage systems, such as those offered by CTERA, that store single copies of important VM and application images. They then use both compression and deduplication to reduce the amount of network traffic created when these images are delivered to the remote desktops and laptops.

The CTERA Mission
Here's how the company describes itself:

CTERA Networks bridges the gap between cloud storage and local storage, providing optimized performance and end-to-end security. Our solutions accelerate deployment of cloud services and eliminate the costs associated with file servers, backup servers and tape drives. Service providers and enterprises use CTERA to deliver services such as backup, file sync and share, mobile collaboration, managed NAS and cloud on-ramping, based on the cloud infrastructure of their choice.

Dan's Take: A Solution Worth Exploring
The issues Denworth mentions are a real problem, and one many suppliers are attempting to address. Although customers tell me that they're happy with CTERA and its products, I can't help but think about all the other suppliers of storage technology and what they're doing.

If one speaks with the major suppliers of this type of technology, to a company they would all say that they have a solution. Is the approach put forward by CTERA better than the others? Depending upon the actual requirements of the organization, the answer just might be yes. If your organization is deploying VDI as a way to reduce administrative and operational costs of supporting desktop workloads, it might be worth the time to see what CTERA is doing and compare it to what your organization is doing now.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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