Like many things in IT, the concept of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) has been around for well over a decade now, and some would even argue that its origins date back even further to when mainframes and dumb terminals were all the rage.
As the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) name implies, virtualization provides the underlying technology layer for VDI. Regarding industry trends in this area, a recent analyst report showed that the adoption of virtualization is still increasing. Of those surveyed (companies with their HQ in the US) the findings indicated that on average 66% of servers were virtualized in 2015 vs. 44% in 2014 – up 22%.
When it comes to VDI, a staggering 89% said that they were either running VDI today, or would be doing so within the next 12 months. Flash technology is proving to be a key enabler in the VDI space with 45% more respondents saying that they would be using flash vs. 2014.
Okay, so there’s a bit background on the trends, but before I jump further into this subject, I think that it’s worth taking a step back to look at the key reasons why you would want to go the VDI route in the first place. So, what are some of the benefits? Well, there are a number of useful tactical advantages such as using snapshot technology to roll-back desktop images, the creation of different VDI images for seasonal or occasional use, less power and cooling - the list goes on, but the overarching benefits can be summarized by the following two headings.
Managing large numbers of desktops, whether in the commercial space, or public sector is not an easy task and with the growing trend of more and more people wanting to bring their own devices, the job is not getting any easier. VDI gives you central management and total control over what is installed on each desktop and how it is being used, added to which, deployment is extremely quick when compared with older imaging-based methods. Also, for contract workers, a new intake of students, or seasonal activities, with VDI you can quickly spin up a new virtual desktop image, pretty much irrespective of what physical device is being used e.g. Mac, or tablet, whilst still ensuring control and security.
It’s well documented that many security breaches occur through employees (disgruntled or otherwise) accessing or downloading sensitive and confidential company data via removable media such as memory sticks, CD’s, etc. Additionally, unauthorized downloading and use of software can place a serious threat to any business. So, for me this is a real biggie – in that with VDI the desktop can be locked-down to prevent external devices such as memory sticks; and also to prevent the user copying data to a local machine. Secure or encrypted, locked-down images can be created for third-party contractors, consultants, etc., to preserve security when working in your environment. Another security benefit regarding remote users is that any sensitive data they access is actually stored centrally on the server and not on the device itself (laptop, tablet, smartphone) and therefore if the device is lost, stolen or damaged, confidentially remains uncompromised.
Sounds good, but . . .
The idea of deploying VDI across hundreds or thousands of users might all sound good in theory, but one of the main challenges organisations face is how to achieve a robust, scalable VDI solution which provides end-users with the level of performance that they expect and at a price per virtual desktop that makes sense for the IT budget. In addition, there could also be a requirement to accommodate physical desktops into the mix for use by senior management, or so called ‘power users’.
From a more technical perspective, VDI can present some challenges in terms of the storage. Basically, VDI tends to be very ‘write’ intensive, which means that even if a large number of virtual desktop users are using the system in a normal way, performance and productivity can be impacted if storage resources are stretched. Imagine, then if a large number of desktop users all logon / boot-up at the same time (known as a VDI ‘boot storm’), or routine virus scanning, or application updates/patches are taking place; the issue then becomes even greater.
Adopting a traditional ‘over-provisioning’ approach to the storage to allow for these peaks is not a good solution either, as it means more storage which could result in a prohibitively high cost per desktop. At the end of the day the overall objective is to make managing a large number of desktops easier and more agile, secure and cost-effective; while at the same time providing end-users with a responsive and usable desktop experience. To address these issues and others, NetApp’s Flash technology can really help in that it’s designed to cope with a high number of ‘writes’ and provides exceptional low-latency, consistent and stable performance to take into account any peaks in demand. Added to which, NetApp’s ONTAP storage management software optimizes ‘writes’ for a Flash profile to accelerate the performance even more. As a bit of an aside, our All Flash FAS and EF systems are selling like the preverbal hot cakes right now, since organizations are realizing that for certain workloads; and to get the best value from their software licenses, it’s important to have fast, consistent performance.
Many organizations today are looking towards a NetApp FlexPod with All Flash FAS (AFF) solution to address their VDI needs. FlexPod AFF not only provides blisteringly fast Flash-based performance, but its converged architecture, developed in partnership with Cisco (storage, networking & compute; all pre-configured and certified) dramatically reduces the time it takes to get into production and start delivering value back to the business. Features such in-line deduplication, compression and cloning can help to reduce the amount of actual data stored by up to 80%. Another key benefit is ability to non-disruptively scale-up / scale-out the configuration by up to 24 nodes depending on future needs. Crucially, all this can be achieved at the very lowest cost / per desktop in the market.
Okay, so where’s the evidence?
This recent case study of a large US government agency shows that they were able to reduce their total cost of ownership for desktop computing by $4 million in the first year of deployment ($2 million capex and $2 million opex). Other benefits included: delivery of new applications went from months down to just days; the ability to centralise remote administration of physical desktops for non-VDI users, along with the introduction of new hardware options such as thin clients and extending the life of existing desktop PCs.
Moving to the academic world, City University London and Royal Veterinary College are just a few examples from the UK where organisations have opted for solutions from NetApp for their VDI requirements. To sum up, the use of a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) provided a greater degree of flexibility, and ease of management using limited resources. The implementation was quick to deploy across different student networks and, finally, it provided an easy way to customise desktops, which is great for educational institutes, working with many different groups and subjects.
VDI is definitely on the rise across many types of organisations, but for it to be successful the deployment not only needs to stack up in terms of the management, security and cost benefits, but also in the quality of service it delivers to the end-user, which needs to be at least as good, if not better than the traditional physical desktops that it replaced. Although not referenced in this blog, the essential ingredient of any VDI environment is of course the virtualization software itself. NetApp has a range of strategic technology partners in this area which include: VMware, Microsoft, Cisco and Citrix.
Finally, the advances in Flash technology and the super-fast, consistent performance it delivers - combined with an ever more affordable cost point, means that as the analysts predict more organisations are likely to be considering VDI as viable alternative to a traditional desktop environment, more of the time.
If you haven't already done so, make sure that you check out these other great blogs from this series:
From the Product, Solutions and Alliances Marketing EMEA team