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VDI – The Questions You Didn’t Ask (But Really Should)

There’s no shortage of content out there (a quick Google search easily confirms this) when it comes to looking for vendor-originated material touting the latest server performance benchmarks for hosted virtual desktops.  Being part of that community, I’m pretty sure I have my fingerprints on more than one such piece of collateral – and I’m constantly reminded of this, when we run into questions along the lines of “yeah, {xxx} desktops on a blade is great, but c’mon, you and I both know we’d never do that in practice”.  It’s a balancing act of demonstrating solution performance, intersected with the practical reality of what IT managers would reasonably support in a production environment.

So what really matters?  If I’m implementing VDI for the 1st time, and I’m trying to make intelligent decisions around CPU, memory speed, IOPS, etc., where do I go?  VDI is unique in its consumption of compute, storage and network resources, when compared to other workloads hosted in the data center.  Much of the performance benchmarking info put out by server manufacturers is not specific to VDI performance, or how user experience might be impacted by simple decisions like choice of clock speed or # of vCPU.

Thankfully, there are folks in my company that care a LOT about such questions.  So much so, that a small, VDI-proficient group of them took it upon themselves to design and build an in-house lab environment with one express purpose – exhaustively exploring and documenting the performance and scalability impacts seen when configuring your compute platform for VDI.  No stone left unturned – things like CPU cores, clock speed, memory speed,  vCPU, memory density and more – all fair game.

The findings are extremely valuable to anyone deploying VDI, and what this team discovered is a set of real-life “questions”.  The “Missing” questions if you will – those questions that are noticeably absent or never sufficiently exposed in marketing materials, when it comes to the practical choices you can make that most significantly impact the cost, scalability and performance of your virtual desktop implementation.

So let me start with an introduction.  Over the next few weeks, you’re going to hear from some peers of mine – Doron Chosnek, Jason Marchesano, and Shawn Kaiser.  They’re Cisco Consulting Systems Engineers, and they live and breathe VDI (I know, melodramatic), as implemented in their customers’ data centers around the world.

They undertook this journey with the express purpose of answering the “missing” questions, by assembling a test platform in their lab, built on Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS), using readily available components including:

  • Various UCS B200 M3 configurations
  • Login Virtual Session Indexer (Login VSI) 3.6.1 benchmark
  • Login VSI’s Medium with Flash workload
  • VMware View 5.1.1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 32-bit virtual desktops
  • Pure Storage FlashArray with Purity version 2.0.2.

Keep in mind that their goal was not to explore maximum scalability, or prescribe a preferred design/architecture, or even what kind of server blade or processor you should use for VDI.  Instead they relied on commonly available gear easily found in our customer’s data centers.  If you want prescriptive design guidance, Cisco CVD’s are ideal for that, and you can find them here.

So let’s talk about their test environment.

Physical Lab

The physical environment shown below is a highly overprovisioned system.  Only one B200 M3 blade was tested at any one time, yet every logical link between elements shown consists of multiple 10-GbE links or multiple 8-Gb Fibre Channel links.

The storage array has 24 flash disks and is capable of substantially higher IOPS than used for this testing. All the infrastructure machines used for this test (Active Directory, VMware vCenter, VMware View, VSI Launchers) are virtual machines on the B230 M2 blade in the environment.

9 Q Figure 1

 

Note: At the time of testing, the Pure Storage had not completed UCS certification testing.

 

Logical Server Environment

9 Q Figure 2

The tests involved two UCS B200 M3 blades, one with dual E5-2665 processors and the other with dual E5-2643 processors.  The 2643 is a 4-core high clock/burst speed processor, and the 2665 is an 8-core medium/high clock/burst speed processor.  Here are the specs for the CPU’s chosen:

9 Q Figure 3

Now, you may wonder, are either of these THE processor you would choose for VDI?  Not necessarily! 

Keep in mind the goal we set out with – to expose the relative impacts of # cores, clock speed, memory speed, #vCPU’s etc.  What you’ll take away from the results, are guidance on which parameters matter for specific types of VDI deployments.  You can then safely look at a VDI-“workhorse” processor like the E5-2680 or E5-2690, and apply what our CSE’s have learned through this testing, to that class of CPU, and make your best selection there.

The tests were conducted using Login VSI’s Medium with Flash workload generator.  As we explore the test results in this series, you’ll see reference to “VSImax”, which defines the threshold past which the user experience will be unacceptable.  The VSImax threshold will appear on supporting graphs that show the performance curve under various test scenarios.  You can learn more about how this threshold is derived here.

9 Q Table 1

So that’s the test environment.  Through this series – let’s call it VDI – the Questions You Didn’t Ask (But Really Should) – our CSE friends (Shawn, Doron, and Jason) will explore and expose the findings they’ve documented for us, dealing with a new “question” each time.  If you join us for this journey, it’ll be worth your while – you’ll come away with a better appreciation of the impact that some simple decisions in your data center compute configuration can make.

So are you ready for the journey -- You’ll find the Questions (answered thus far) below:

  1. VDI “The Missing Questions” #1: Core Count vs. Core Speed
  2. VDI “The Missing Questions” #2: Core Speed Scaling (Burst)
  3. VDI “The Missing Questions” #3: Realistic Virtual Desktop limits
  4. VDI “The Missing Questions” #4: How much SPECint is enough
  5. VDI “The Missing Questions” #5: How does 1vCPU scale compared to 2vCPU’s?
  6. VDI “The Missing Questions” #6: What do you really gain from a 2vCPU virtual desktop?
  7. VDI “The Missing Questions” #7: How memory bus speed affects scale
  8. VDI “The Missing Questions” #8: How does memory density affect VDI scalability?
  9. VDI “The Missing Questions” #9: How many storage IOPs?
  10. VDI “The Missing Questions” Conclusion

Special Web Event -- You’re Invited!

If you’re enjoying our series, be sure to join our free webcast, where Shawn, Doron and Jason will discuss all the (Missing) VDI Questions Live + take your Q&A.  Access the webcast here.

Featured Whitepaper Now Available!

Need a convenient whitepaper-ized version of the discussion?  Download it now, here.

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Announcing Cisco Jabber for Virtual Environments with the New Release of Cisco VXI

These are exciting times. Today Cisco announced the latest release of the Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) Smart Solution and I am very pleased to share this news with you. Cisco has unveiled a new software strategy to support Cisco Jabber for virtual environments as an integral part of Cisco VXI. Cisco has taken this path to innovation based on how our customers use the Cisco VXI Smart Solution today for desktop visualization and from trends in the market. We continue to see strong growth in desktop virtualization and in new collaborative experiences not to mention the ongoing demand for BYOD and mobility.

Cisco VXI was the first desktop virtualization architecture to eliminate the bottlenecks and overloads that often occur with rich media collaboration. Today we are evolving that architecture further by including Cisco Jabber for virtual environments which — thanks to Cisco Virtualization Experience Media Engine (VXME) — leverages the computing and processing power of the local environment to minimize the impact of rich media on network performance and data center resources.

Cisco VXME enables virtual desktop users to take advantage of Cisco Jabber’s suite of collaboration features like voice calling, high-definition video calling, presence and instant messaging. Meanwhile, virtual desktops, applications and collaboration services are centrally hosted on the Cisco Unified Data Center and delivered to a broad array of devices resulting in a seamless user experience. It’s just like using a traditional local desktop.

With today’s announcement, Cisco VXI becomes the first desktop virtualization solution to integrate network-based Quality of Service. The Cisco VXME software makes the network aware of voice and video traffic and automatically prioritizes it, reducing jitter and delays. The result? IT managers are now able to easily deliver a high quality collaboration experience to their virtual desktop user communities.

Not only do these innovations create a stellar user experience, they also meet security needs. Virtual desktops become a mirror of traditional workspaces, and as such provide the same level of secure access to documents, corporate applications, and a full suite of collaboration tools via Cisco Jabber.

Additionally, users are now able to personalize their virtual workspace experience with our new desktop accessories from Jabra and Logitech.You really have to check them out.

We continue to work closely with our partners who are fully enabled to implement an end to end VXI Smart Solution. Find out what this new release means to them.

Right now, Cisco VXME is designed to work with the Cisco Virtualization Experience Client (VXC) 6215 and will be globally available in March of this year. Support for 3rd party thin clients and Windows PCs will follow during the first half of 2013. Cisco Jabber for virtual environments is compatible with Cisco VXI solutions running Citrix XenDesktop, Citrx XenApp, or VMware View 5.1.  Read Citrix and VMware perspectives on these innovations.

To learn more about Cisco’s desktop virtualization strategy and see a demonstration of  Cisco Jabber for virtual environments and the new UC accessories, I invite you to join me for the Cisco Collaboration Announcement Webcast with live Q&A on Jan 17 from 9-9:30 a.m. Pacific Time (replay available after 11 a.m. Pacific Time).

Phil

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A Look Back at 2012: Evolution of Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI)

As 2012 came to a close, I found myself looking back not only on the events of world at large but also on just how much progress we have made here at Cisco with the Cisco VXI Smart Solution. I took a moment to reflect on the incredible value VXI delivered to our customers last year.

Since its inception in 2010, the Cisco VXI Smart Solution has been at the center of successful virtual desktop initiatives. VXI brings together compute and collaboration in a complete solution and lets people seamlessly experience their desktops anywhere--on any device. I am very pleased to say that we have more than 1,000 VXI customers and that number is growing. With every new release, VXI has evolved with innovations that maximize performance, scalability, security and user experience while minimizing complexity and risk.

In 2012, we delivered major enhancements across the solution. We introduced optimization that reduces storage costs--often one of the biggest investments in a desktop virtualization program. We have enhanced data center performance and scalability with the remarkably successful Cisco UCS, or Cisco Unified Computing System. Now customers can easily scale from 500 to 29,000 virtual desktops on a single system by simply adding blades. The advantage of these performance enhancements becomes very obvious when large user groups are logging on at the same time—just imagine a call center at 8 am on a Monday.

Security is always at the top of the list for any organization thinking about virtualization. In 2012, Cisco VXI enhanced security for end users with support for Cisco AnyConnect VPN and single sign-on with Citrix Receiver. Security policy was also improved with integration of Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) into the solution. ISE gives customers greater control with policy-based security services for both corporate and employee devices, protecting organizations from data loss, compliance issues, loss of revenue and brand damage.

The VXI Smart Solution has always been a leader in user experience for desktop virtualization. We pioneered a new collaboration architecture for voice and video by eliminating the primary cause of poor quality in virtual desktop environments--namely the hairpin effect. We went even further this year by integrating Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) Software, which reduces the amount of bandwidth needed to deliver workspace traffic over the WAN by up to 70%. Now, people are able to collaborate with voice and video calling on their virtual desktops – or as we like to call it– the Unified Workspace.

Complementing the VXI technologies are comprehensive design guides, services, support and our technology partner ecosystem. The Cisco Validated Designs (CVDs) for VMware and for Citrix give our customers an end-to-end blueprint for implementation and they are updated with every release to facilitate success. To further assure a premium experience and exceptional flexibility, we have expanded our ecosystem of technology partners to include smartcards, endpoints and accessories.

While it gives me much satisfaction to reflect on the past 12 months I am even more enthusiastic about what’s in store for VXI in 2013. Right off the bat, you’ll hear about the next chapter in the evolution of the VXI Smart Solution with our upcoming announcement. Join us on January 17 to learn what’s new.

Phil

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Cisco Validated Designs for Cloud – Part 3 – Flexpod

November 9, 2012 at 4:00 am PST

Over the past two weeks, Tom Nallen introduced the concept and benefits of the Cisco Validated Design , then Laszlo Bojtos,  illustrated this concept with the Cloud Service Assurance for Virtualized Multi-Services Data Center 2.2 Cisco Validated Design, with a specific emphasis on the integration with Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud .

This week I talked with John Kennedy, a Cisco engineer who put a lot of energy on the FlexPod CVDs.

“So John, what is FlexPod ?
FlexPod is the result of collaboration between NetApp© and Cisco to create a cost-effective, scalable solution for cloud applications as well as standard virtualization support.  The FlexPod(t), a pre-defined, pre-tested solution, includes the compute, networking, and storage customers need in a validated (as in CVD) package. But unlike other validated solutions, FlexPod can be scaled up or out, not just one or the other.

What need does FlexPod address ?
It’s probably been a while since you had to source a motherboard. Many of us have done this in the past, in order to get desktop computer system that met our needs. Pre-configured systems were limited in their abilities, and custom design was beneficial.

But choices of personal computer systems have increased, and most folks don’t need to customize anymore, preferring to buy an entire computer system that’s been tested and designed to meet their needs. On the other hand, customers want to be able to expand the system they have to keep up with new technology, or to add capabilities.

Customers need to support multiple types of applications and have multiple purposes for their infrastructure, and the Cisco Validated Designs (CVDs) for FlexPod reflect that need. The architectures have been validated by engineers from both companies to ensure performance and stability.
But that’s just the beginning. The Cisco Validated Design documents include multiple configurations with multiple types of application and operating systems  Read More »

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Cisco and Citrix –Better Together Across Networks, Clouds and Mobility

Early this week, there was much buzz and speculation about how Cisco and Citrix will be doing business differently. The news was finally unveiled at Mark Templeton’s keynote, when he introduced Cisco CTO, Padmasree Warrior, and they jointly announced the expansion to the two companies’ current partnership on three strategic areas: cloud networking, cloud orchestration and mobile workstyles.  Details are outlined in this press release.

Read More »

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