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Agile Application Delivery with UCS-Powered VDI


We’re off to another edition of VMworld with some great technology to showcase. Our theme this year is your data center is everywhere, the center of innovation. And talking about innovation we will be demoing some recent work around our desktop virtualization solution with VMware. We will have demo pods showcasing our UCS solutions for Virtual SAN and VDI as well as a demo showing graphic acceleration for VDI with Cisco UCS and NVIDIA GRID on Horizon. By the way, did you catch NVIDIA’s announcement today about GRID 2.0. This is pretty exciting news as graphic acceleration is key to a seamless user experience when you virtualize desktops or applications. With Cisco UCS a market leader in blade servers we’re looking forward to bringing virtualized GPUs to our B-series servers. As we see more and more graphic-intensive applications being virtualized to protect intellectual property by keeping data safely in the data center Cisco is working with NVIDIA and ISVs to qualify hardware configuration for specific applications. Read about Esri ArcGISPro recent testing on Cisco UCS C240-M4 and NVIDIA K2 GPU. Read More »

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Changing the Economics of Desktop and App Virtualization at the Enterprise Edge

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 3.21.53 PMIn my last post I discussed how Cisco UCS Mini is helping us expand beyond the traditional confines of the data center, to deliver desktop and app virtualization with exceptional user experience, manageability and TCO savings – at the enterprise edge.

We’re only going to see more investment and focus in this space, thanks to the general trend towards making VDI and app virtualization more tenable in a wider array of use cases across the enterprise, pushing from data center to enterprise edge.  This week, I want to offer a proof point I alluded to in my last post, enabled by our partners Nimble Storage and VMware.

Let’s take a look at the Nimble Storage SmartStack for ROBO (Remote Office / Branch Office) Desktop Virtualization.  As you know, we’ve seen incredible traction with our friends at Nimble.  Their CS array has seen wide market acceptance, and is now offered as an Integrated Infrastructure solution in the form of SmartStack, delivering the modularity, scale and manageability that IT demands.

I’m pleased to highlight that SmartStack now offers a solution optimized for ROBO.  In case you missed it, check out Nimble Storage’s announcement.   Bringing together best-of-breed components including VMware Horizon 6, Nimble’s CS300 array, and UCS Mini, this offering delivers on the key attributes critical to the enterprise edge:

  •  ­­Greater Consolidation: dense storage, compute and expansive I/O capacity of the Nimble + Cisco UCS solution, allows for hundreds of users in a small footprint, 50% of what traditional solutions might occupy.
  • Simplified Management: anchored on UCS Manager, this platform enables centralized IT to remotely spin up desktop and application virtualization capacity at remote/branch offices, without the error-prone, manual intervention required by traditional compute platforms.
  • High Performance: the combination of Nimble’s large IOPS footprint, low latency and Cisco UCS processing power delivers adaptive, exceptional performance in a compact form factor. This, along with VMware Horizon, allows IT to maintain an exceptional user experience through heavy application use and periods such as boot/login storms, patch operations and upgrades.

For more information on the Nimble SmartStack for ROBO Desktop Virtualization, please check out Sheldon D’Paiva’s blog on SmartStack ROBO.

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Configuring Virtual Environments for Graphics-Intensive Applications (C240+XenDesktop+NVIDIA)


The Guild of St Luke in Florence, where Leonardo Da Vinci qualified as a master sculptor when he was only 20 years old, had in attendance both artists and doctors of medicine. While someone today might wonder what those two vocations have in common, someone from the Italian Renaissance would not. Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were the most famous artists of their day, but they were also remarkably skilled engineers, designers, architects, and experts on human anatomy.

Like the guilds of Renaissance Europe, NVIDIA graphics cards serve multiple disciplines. They can deliver 2D/3D graphics performance to CAD/CAM engineers doing design work, medical technicians and doctors examining MRI/CT scans or tumor reconstructions, scientists performing data modeling, and a variety of graphics professionals.

Although their huge thirst for computing power and their immense appetite for data have kept them at the leading edge of computer design, graphics applications have been unable to take advantage of the revolution in virtualization. Narrow network bandwidths and localized rendering engines made it impractical. And companies were sensitive about the security of their intellectual property.

However, Cisco and Citrix have developed a solution in which graphics applications can run in virtual environments with as much performance and security as if they were running locally on high-powered graphics workstations. The solution allows graphics professionals to reap the benefits of virtualization: data remains protected in the data center, desktops are centrally provisioned, and users in different locations can remotely access the same large graphics files on a variety of devices—even on remote workstations, laptops, and tablets.

This blog describes the solution, its major components, and what’s involved in configuring it inside your data center. You can get the details about the full solution in this Cisco White Paper.


The Cisco and Citrix Solution for Virtualizing Graphics Applications


Four elements are key to the Cisco-Citrix solution:

  1. A combination of Citrix XenDesktop 7.5 and Cisco UCS C240 M3 rack servers that enables up to 64 VMs per server to run rich 2D/3D applications accelerated by NVIDIA GRID technology.
  2. Compute, network, and storage efficiency that gives each desktop (or other device) virtual GPU performance comparable to locally executing applications.
  3. The flexibility of the Citrix XenDesktop to run the NVIDIA GRID cards in both pass-through and vGPU modes, to configure different vGPU types, and to balance the number of vGPUs to match requirements.
  4. Comprehensive and centralized management of the entire system and its components via the Cisco UCS Management suite.


Major System Components

The major components of this system are:

  • Cisco UCS 240 M3 Rack Servers
  • Citrix XenDesktop 7.5
  • NVIDIA GRID K1 or K2 Graphics Cards
  • Citrix XenServer 6.2 Service Pack 1.

Cisco UCS 240 M3 Rack Servers

The Cisco UCS C240 M3 rack server is part of the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) family, a data center platform that unites compute, network, and storage access. The platform is optimized for virtual environments and uses open industry-standard technologies to reduce total cost of ownership. It integrates a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network fabric with enterprise-class, x86-architecture servers.

The Cisco UCS C240 M3 servers feature breakthrough compute power for demanding workloads and are rack-mountable with a compact 2RU form factor. These servers use the same stateless, streamlined provisioning and operations model as their blade server counterparts, the Cisco UCS B-Series Servers. The Cisco UCS C240 M3 servers can support either SAS, SATA, or SSD drives internally, or they can interface with third-party shared storage to meet cost, performance, and capacity requirements.

The Cisco UCS C240 M3 servers also include:

  • Cisco UCS 6248UP 48-port Fabric Interconnects that supply 10-Gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) connectivity
  • The Cisco UCS Virtual Interface Card, a PCI Express (PCIe) adapter optimized to handle virtualization workloads of the Cisco UCS C-Series rack servers
  • Cisco UCS Manager, which can be accessed through a GUI, a CLI, or an XML API to control multiple chassis and thousands of virtual machines. Administrators can use the same interfaces to manage these servers along with all other Cisco servers in the enterprise.

Citrix XenDesktop 7.5

Citrix XenDesktop 7.5 delivers Windows operating systems and high performance applications to a variety of device types with a native user experience. This XenDesktop release includes HDX enhancements (including HDX 3D Pro) to optimize virtualized application delivery on mobile devices and across limited network bandwidths. HDX 3D Pro provides GPU acceleration for Windows Desktop OS machines (provisioned as VDI desktops), and Windows Server OS machines (that use RDS). It enables an optimal user experience on wide area network (WAN) connections as low as 1.5 Mbps as well as local area network (LAN) connections.

NVIDIA GRID K1 and K2 Cards

The NVIDIA GRID K1 and K2 cards let multiple users simultaneously share GPUs that provide ultra-fast graphics displays with no lag, making a remote data center feel like it’s next door. Because the cards use the same graphics drivers that are deployed in non-virtualized environments, you can run the exact same application both locally and virtualized. The software stack—including GPU virtualization, remoting, and session-management libraries—enables efficient compression, fast streaming, and low-latency display of high-performance 2D and 3D enterprise applications.

Citrix XenServer 6.2 Service Pack 1

Citrix XenServer is an open-source virtualization platform for managing server, and desktop virtualization environments. XenServer 6.2 enables GPU sharing between multiple virtual machines. As a result, each physical GPU on the NVIDIA card can support multiple virtual GPU devices (vGPUs).

As shown in the illustration below, the NVIDIA Virtual GPU Manager running in XenServer dom0 controls the vGPUs, which are assigned directly to guest VMs:


Guest VMs use NVIDIA GRID virtual GPUs in the same manner as a physical GPU that has been passed through by the hypervisor. An NVIDIA driver loaded in the guest VM provides direct access to the GPU for performance-critical operations. Lower-performance management operations use a paravirtualized interface to the NVIDIA GRID Virtual GPU Manager.

Because resource requirements can vary, the maximum number of vGPUs that can be created on a physical GPU depends on the vGPU type, as shown in this table:

Card Physical GPUs Virtual GPUs Intended Use Case Frame Buffer (Megabytes) Virtual Display Heads Max Resolution per Display Head Maximum vGPUs
Per GPUs Per Board
GRID K1 4 GRID K140Q Power User 1024 2 2560×1600 4 16
GRID K120Q Power User 512 2 2560×1600 8 32
GRID K100 Knowledge Worker 256 2 1920×1200 8 32
GRID K2 2 GRID K260Q Power User, Designer 2048 4 2560×1600 2 4
GRID K240Q Power User, Designer 1024 2 2560×1600 4 8
GRID K220Q Power User, Designer 512 2 2560×1600 8 16
GRID K200 Knowledge Worker 256 2 1920X1200 8 16


For example, an NVIDIA GRID K2 physical GPU can support up to four K240Q vGPUs on each of its two physical GPUs, for a total of eight vGPUs. However, the same card can support only two K260Q vGPUs, for a total of four vGPUs.

Configuring the Cisco-Citrix System – An Overview

These are the major steps required to configure a single VM to use the NVIDIA GRID vGPU:

  1. Install an NVIDIA GRID GPU card in a Cisco C240 M3 UCS server.
  2. Perform the base Cisco UCS configuration and, if required, upgrade the GPU firmware.
  3. Enable virtual machines for pass-through support by installing the pass-through GPU driver and the Citrix XenDesktop HDX 3D Pro Virtual Desktop Agent.
  4. Install XenServer 6.2.0 and Service Pack 1, and install the NVIDIA GRID vGPU Manager.
  5. Create a virtual machine and configure it with the NVIDIA vGPU type. For graphics-intensive applications, be sure to configure virtual machines running Citrix HDX 3D Pro Graphics with at least four virtual CPUs.
  6. Install and configure the vGPU driver on the VM guest operating system.
  7. Verify that the graphics applications are ready to use the vGPU.

The detailed configuration steps are provided in the full white paper.

Hardware Notes

For advanced configurations, note that the C240 M3 riser 1 is associated with the first CPU socket and riser 2 with second CPU socket. Refer to this white paper for information regarding vCPU pinning and GPU locality configurations.



Cisco, Citrix, and NVIDIA have teamed up to bring the benefits of virtualization to the users of graphics-intensive applications and the IT organizations that deploy and manage them. Combined breakthrough technologies allow graphics professionals to benefit from the remote access, data sharing, and low overhead of virtualization while experiencing the performance they demand for their graphics-intensive workloads.

For more information, see:

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Taking Desktop Virtualization Beyond the Data Center – with the Next Wave of Unified Computing

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 3.46.26 PM If you look back at the Cisco UCS launch on September 4th, and VMworld SF just prior, the last 4 weeks have been a tsunami of solution innovation milestones in unified computing, ie: where the next wave of Unified Computing is taking us.  If you haven’t already seen the launch event “Powering Applications at Every Scale – the Next Wave of Unified Computing Innovation”, please check it out!

Desktop Virtualization Beyond the Data CenterScreen Shot 2014-09-23 at 3.48.07 PM

A much anticipated part of this launch was the introduction of UCS Mini.  This is all about expanding our presence / penetration of where we can offer the unified computing value proposition.  With the economic disruption UCS has brought to the data center, it’s now time to extend that value beyond the traditional limits of the data center – check out this presentation to get an idea of the TCO impact alone, when considered next to HP DL360p Gen8 ’s.

With this economic advantage, comes the opportunity to address a growing array of desktop virtualization use cases that depend on footprint-friendly form factor without sacrificing performance or simplified, stateless, centralized manageability.  Think of use cases that include:

  • the enterprise-edge where you likely don’t have IT resources in place
  • retail/point-of-sale environments, or
  • small/medium-sized businesses that need fewer servers

In these scenarios, traditional centralized VDI implementation is hampered by WAN latency, security and business continuity concerns.  Being able to deploy a local solution that integrates compute, software and storage, that’s still centrally managed, could be just the solution for your branch office.  Look for new solutions from Cisco and our ecosystem partners that address these scenarios with compelling new offers, which brings us to VMworld Barcelona.

VMworld Barcelona and Integrated Infrastructure solutions for Desktop and App Virtualization

In just a few weeks, we’ll be at VMworld Barcelona, and I’m pleased to once again have the opportunity to kick off the week with a breakout session co-delivered with VMware’s Bhumik Patel, covering “Best in Class Desktop Virtualization with Horizon 6 and Cisco UCS”.  If you didn’t join us in the room in San Francisco, and you’ll be in Barcelona, please attend this second offering of TEX2516

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 3.55.00 PMI love opening these things up with a simple poll of i) how many folks in the room have implemented UCS, and ii) how many have done so in support of VDI or app virtualization.  In San Francisco, from the show of hands, it was obvious that over 90% of the room (of 200+ session attendees) had deployed VMware Horizon on UCS.  It was also telling that many attendees expressed interest in solutions for graphics/NVIDIA, flash storage, and our new VDI Pilot Accelerator configurations that are optimal for getting one’s feet wet in desktop as well as app virtualization.Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 3.59.02 PM

Another hot topic was Integrated Infrastructure solutions for VDI.  If you’re already familiar with FlexPod or Vblock, you already know how rapidly this IT consumption model is growing (to the tune of $3B in FlexPod alone) and how Cisco and its ecosystem partners are enabling organizations of all sizes to

  • dramatically reduce the time to deploy new services,
  • using modularized infrastructure approaches that integrated compute, network and storage,
  • supported with unified, single pane of glass management
  • backed by validated performance testing / documented results

The Nimble Storage SmartStack is another great example in this space, offering pre-validated solutions for organizations of all sizes, wanting to take the guesswork out of getting into desktop or server virtualization.  Imagine the possibilities with a SmartStack built on UCS-Mini…  Speaking of which, check out this article about VCPro, a service provider in the Asia Pacific region, offering DaaS on SmartStack built on UCS Mini.

Look for more news in the coming weeks regarding these and other new solutions that expand the use cases for desktop and app virtualization – see you at VMworld Barcelona!

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The #1 x86 Blade Server Is Also Your Best Choice for VMware Horizon

Cisco VMware infographic-v4In case you missed it, last week Cisco partners, ecosystem, and customers everywhere applauded the latest IDC worldwide server tracker report citing Cisco UCS as the revenue market share leader in North America, eclipsing HP for the top spot in x86 blades.

Cisco VP/GM Paul Perez said it best: “Customers are adopting UCS because our innovation drives positive business outcomes for them.”  That’s a sentiment echoed in every case study highlighting the tangible business impacts our customers have experienced when deploying mission-critical workloads on UCS.  Nowhere is this more evident, than with desktop virtualization, where organizations are transforming end-user computing to unleash greater employee mobility, productivity, business continuity and agility.  Check out this infographic if you want to see a nice snapshot of what real Cisco customers have done with VMware Horizon on UCS.

It should therefore be no surprise when industry luminaries like VMware’s Sanjay Poonen (EVP/GM of VMware End User Computing) highlights the importance of Cisco UCS in helping his team gain market traction in end user computing.  This Business Insider interview is an insightful read – especially if you’ve only heardSanjay Poonen the competitive narrative between Cisco and VMware, and were not aware that our two companies actually have a differentiated, compelling joint offer around desktop virtualization built on VMware Horizon deployed on UCS.

Is your organization in the midst of transforming your desktops into mobile workspaces?  Do you want to learn more about how organizations just like yours are turning to the market leader in x86 blades for their VDI deployment?  Next week VMware is hosting an online virtual event (think of it aVMW_EUCInsightBanner_240x96s a free virtual tradeshow) – VMware EUC Insights.  From the convenience of your office (or home, or coffee shop, etc.) you can listen in on keynotes, breakout sessions, and engage desktop virtualization experts from Cisco and VMware.  I encourage you to check out Cisco UCS at VMware EUC Insights on June 17th!

PS: if you visit our booth and complete a short survey, you’ll have a chance to win an iPad Air!



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