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Virtual Desktops: Just Another Workload?

As the solutions marketing manager for Cisco’s Desktop Virtualization solutions, I want to use this opportunity to start a dialog around the trends we’re seeing across various IT organizations, and their efforts to embrace desktop virtualization. I thought we might start with posing a common question: As you’re designing your data center infrastructure to handle virtual desktop workloads, Is desktop virtualization really just another workload?   Do you build a single consolidated, shared infrastructure to accommodate the usual server workloads alongside VM-hosted desktops, or do you handle these somehow differently?  A VM’s a VM, regardless of what’s sitting on it, right?  Consolidated… shared… elastic…  this is the cloud infrastructure vision isn’t it?  Whether you’re embracing VDI or App Virtualization, why should desktops be different?  Maybe we should start with probably the biggest challenge and exposure associated with moving to virtual desktops: The End User

Quality of user experience and application responsiveness as impacted by a sub-optimal infrastructure still tend to be among the biggest impediments for virtual desktop implementations moving from proof-of-concept to production (that and the sometimes elusive path to expected ROI/TCO, which we’ll get into in another post).  These are often the result of insufficient testing to replicate end-state loads on network, computing and storage.  The results of a small pilot quite often  don’t accurately predict what really happens when you multiply “The End User” by ten-fold.

So often with these projects, somewhere along the way, the combination of disappointing user experience, maybe compounded by unrealistic expectations results in the solution never getting off the ground.  I’d like to say that there’s one solution that never fails. But let’s be honest – there are so many variables when you consider the infrastructure (compute, network, storage) as well as use cases across the constituents in your workforce, that there’s likely no single prescriptive approach to ensuring success Day 1.

This much we can agree on: your chances for success significantly improve when you commit to the right Day 1 infrastructure approach, tailored to delivering the best user experience possible, vs. hoping your current infrastructure is agile and elastic enough to accommodate the 300 users who don’t know what they’re about to step into Monday morning when they log-on to their new virtual desktop.

Here are a few questions to consider when trying to “build-it-right” on Day 1 :

  1. What would happen if you were to mix desktop workloads directly with enterprise application workloads? Isn’t the approach to updating, patching and securing desktops very different from the approach taken with business critical applications in the data center? It’s not hard to imagine A/V scans on desktop workloads impacting the performance of applications workloads residing among the same compute resource pool.
  2. What’s the profile of the compute and storage infrastructure? It’s well known that desktop virtualization can place a significant burden on memory and I/O before it does on CPU, except in the case of graphics-intensive apps. Therefore it makes sense from both an economics and “user-experience” perspective to ensure that the memory / CPU / I/O ratio is well suited to hosting virtual desktops. Likewise with storage -- virtual desktop IOPS can be extremely high, especially during boot and logon storms… this can account for larger than necessary storage costs… so doesn’t it make sense to ensure that the compute and storage infrastructure are designed and configured around the unique requirements of desktop workloads?
  3. What about security?  The advent of virtual desktops gives IT a unique opportunity to dynamically create virtual workgroups that have access rights to certain resources and not others.  This could possibly be achieved even when mixing desktops and application workloads, but how much more difficult would that be to manage and maintain, especially at the outset of moving your virtual desktops into full production?

Let me know what you think …  and look out for some exciting news from Cisco on desktop virtualization by registering for our Collaboration Experience Launch on November 16th.  In my next post we’ll provide more color to the argument here… and would love to include your thoughts.

For more information:
Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solutions
Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure

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