The VDI Liberation

There has been some lucid and valuable discussion lately on the various social media feeds, related to files and how we humans use them.

February 4, 2011

There has been some lucid and valuable discussion lately on the various social media feeds, related to files and how we humans use them. This got me thinking – at times a dangerous thing, just ask Steve Sicola – about desktop computing and why we need an ‘overhaul’ now. This is somewhat similar to what one of my Xiotech colleagues likes to say, before starting to describe the ISE, “please forget everything you learned about disk storage back in the day and keep your mind open.” With that said, let’s keep our minds open and talk about desktops.

Over 20 years ago, I used a machine known as the ‘X terminal’. It was made by a company named Network Computing Devices, or NCD. This type of thin client was made by several companies, as it turns out – but NCD was the best known. Judy Estrin ran the company (shortly after founding) and many of you know her great history in computing and networking. For the record, here’s a citation showing which other companies made similar devices.

This machine was absolute liberation for me, back then. No CPU, no disk, just a blazingly fast 100Mb/sec Ethernet connection to a server running X Windows services. It was killer. I could reach all my files easily, and didn’t have to worry about local storage at all or buying a heavy (literally and figuratively) desktop with a tiny disk. Plus, I could go anywhere in the building, snag an X term, log on, and work; I was not physically tied to my desk anymore. Liberation.

Today, of course, things have changed in technology, much for the better. But the value of liberating people from a desk is still there. Yet, many companies persist in sourcing physical desktop machines, with local disks, and scattering them about; sometimes within one building, sometimes across many buildings in many sites in many countries worldwide. As many a CIO can tell you, it’s quite difficult if not impossible to manage and keep current. Enter VDI.

So, why is VDI not being adopted as fast as it should? That’s an interesting question, and one that I believe Xiotech has an answer to. The adoption rate of VDI is about trust. Quite literally, many CIOs don’t trust their own infrastructure, in particular their networks and storage. VDI takes good, clean, fast networks and it also takes good, clean, fast storage. Some companies have the former, but very few – in my 33-year experience – have the latter, at least enough of it. When I say ‘enough of it’, I don’t mean capacity – I mean performance. In short, VDI is well behind the power curve of adoption due to storage. It just can’t keep up. Users are not going to accept VDI if it means their desktops boot sluggishly or respond slowly to their KVM inputs. Who can blame them?

Starting July 2010, however, I believe the era of VDI is upon us. The business case is too obvious to ignore – in fact, I believe it’s the newly grown up 800-pound gorilla, and it is definitely in the room. Sure, two years ago, it was a small gorilla, and gorillas take time to grow. Today, though, it’s a full adult and is looking at you squarely in the eyes. What are you going to do, ignore it? I think not.

Shops that adopt VDI often do it on blade compute infrastructure, and there are some great examples of same out there. Likewise, savvy VDI shops will store VDI data on blade storage infrastructure – for all the same reasons they compute on blades. Scale, homogeneity, management, predictability, ease of repair, resilience and most of all – cost savings over alternative methods (and there are many). This is because once properly architected, VDI takes very little administration time and effort. Storage should be the least of the effort in managing a VDI deployment – but often (sadly) is not, because many storage devices do not perform well enough AND provide enough capacity, all at the same time, for the VDI users. You must have both. Trading off performance for sheer capacity is a poor decision. Plus, “flash and trash” is not the answer, as I’ve blogged about before.

And lest we forget, gentle readers, VDI _is_ all about the users. It’s your desktop, after all, not someone else’s. Be it physical or virtual, we all love to control our own desktops. Making that happen efficiently and easily is what we do at Xiotech. Blade storage for VDI.

Now, go forth and VDI…and enjoy your liberation.