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Cisco and Unidesk: How to Simplify and Scale VDI with Citrix, Microsoft, or VMware

Posted on behalf of  Ramesh Chitor, Cisco Systems and Tom Rose, Unidesk

It’s no secret that desktop virtualization has taken longer than everyone expected. As most enterprises will attest and as Gartner research confirms, the two main culprits are cost and complexity.

Top Issues That Limit VDI Deployments

Top Issues Limit VDI Deployments

Source: Is the Hosted Virtual Desktop Market Struggling to Grow?
(Gartner, April 2014, Research ID G00259186)

Yet there are so many good reasons to move forward with VDI – security, compliance, mobility, and the potential for simpler management, to name a few. The demand now is greater than ever for a simple, scalable VDI solution.

Fortunately, innovative new technologies are solving the VDI cost and complexity issues at scale. Also, more importantly, new and exciting partnerships are forming to bring these innovative technologies together into joint solutions. That’s why Cisco and Unidesk are joining forces – to help customers like the ones profiled at the end of this blog achieve desktop virtualization success.

Cisco UCS: The Optimal Infrastructure Foundation for Citrix XenDesktop, VMware Horizon, and Microsoft RDS

According to a recent report by IDC, Cisco has achieved the ranking of No. 1 provider of x86 blade servers in the Americas, measured by revenue market share. How did Cisco demonstrate the highest industry growth in the total worldwide server market when other vendors in the top five posted flat or declining results?

The Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) with a proven and innovative technology delivers breakthrough levels of operational efficiency for cloud service providers and enterprise customers who increasingly rely on scale-out architectures for workloads like VDI. The recent introduction of Cisco UCS Mini brings these same compute scale and performance innovations to remote sites, branch offices, and small IT environments. More on UCS Mini here!

Whether you’re implementing VDI with Citrix XenDesktop, Microsoft RDS, or VMware Horizon, Cisco UCS can reduce infrastructure cost and complexity.

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Unidesk: The Single Pane of Glass Management Foundation for Citrix XenDesktop, VMware Horizon, and Microsoft RDS

With a game-changing invention called “layering,” Unidesk has transformed the management of Windows desktops in private clouds. Unidesk virtualizes everything above the hypervisor – Windows OS, Applications, and Personalization – as modular, reusable building blocks, or “layers.” OS and App layers are created once and stored as read-only virtual disks that can be attached to and shared by many VMs. The Personalization layer is a writable virtual disk that is unique to each VM.

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IT administrators use Unidesk to assign layers in any combination to create desktops. Unidesk file system and registry virtualization technology merges the assigned layers into a composite C: drive for each VM. Once Unidesk has provisioned the layered desktops on VMware vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V and added them to Citrix XenDesktop catalogs, Microsoft RDS collections, or VMware Horizon View pools, end users can access the desktops through any device supported by the brokers.

Layering makes desktop provisioningapplication delivery, image patchingpersonalizationdisk space reduction, and desktop repair remarkably simple and efficient. All capabilities are delivered through Unidesk’s single pane of glass management console that can be easily mastered by Tier 1 IT administrators.

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Unidesk’s single pane of glass console makes everyone on your IT staff application delivery and desktop management experts

Whether you’re implementing VDI with Citrix XenDesktopMicrosoft RDS, or VMware Horizon, Unidesk can reduce the cost and complexity of desktop deployment and management.

Customer Proof Points!

When it comes to VDI, reference architectures and white papers are everywhere. Cisco and Unidesk believe that the best proof points are our joint customer successes:

  • Mercer University is one of Americaʼs oldest and most distinctive institutions of higher learning. Cisco UCS, Unidesk, and VMware View are the foundation for the university’s successful “Borderless Classroom” VDI initiative. With more than 1,000 virtual desktops in production, Mercer is realizing its goal of providing a better client computing experience for students, faculty, and staff.Read the case study and watch the customer video.
  • Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is one of the largest trusts in the UK. The healthcare organization has deployed over 1,700 virtual desktops with Citrix XenDesktop, Cisco UCS, and Unidesk for 3,000+ workers. The project has been so successful they are now doubling their VDI environment. Read the customer blog.
  • Bernstein Shur is one of New England’s largest law firms. Now 100% virtualized with Cisco UCS, Cisco Invicta flash storage, Unidesk, and VMware, the firm’s attorneys are enjoying a more consistent and stable desktop experience as they move between offices, courts, client appointments, and home. Read the case study and watch the customer’s deployment webinar.
  • County of Tulare, California is geographically dispersed across 4,863 square miles. When a PC problem arose, IT technicians faced the daunting prospect of spending hours on the road. Due to the wide range of departments and job functions, every desktop configuration is different, making updates and break/fix even more of a challenge. Cisco UCS and Unidesk have VDI on track to solve these problems.Read the case study and watch their deployment webinar.
  • USF Health clinicians needed faster, more secure access to Allscripts EMR and other key apps. IT needed to reduce the effort and expense of keeping Windows and apps up to date. With 800 virtual desktops created and managed by Unidesk on Cisco UCS, everyone is getting what they need. WatchUSF Health’s deployment webinar.

How to Get Started

Desktop virtualization shouldn’t be costly or complex.; It shouldn’t require Tier 2 and 3 administrators for day-to-day management. It shouldn’t compromise the end user experience or limit use cases. With Cisco and Unidesk, it won’t.

Get started now. Check out the great resources at www.cisco.com/go/vdi. Download your free trial copy of Unidesk for vSphere at get.unidesk.com/trial. Or, be one of the first to try the new Unidesk for Hyper-V at www.unidesk.com/hyper-v. And see how easy it can be to scale your VDI deployment.

FREE EBOOK – Top 10 Reasons VDI Projects Fail

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

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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

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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:

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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 2560x1600 4 16
GRID K120Q Power User 512 2 2560x1600 8 32
GRID K100 Knowledge Worker 256 2 1920x1200 8 32
GRID K2 2 GRID K260Q Power User, Designer 2048 4 2560x1600 2 4
GRID K240Q Power User, Designer 1024 2 2560x1600 4 8
GRID K220Q Power User, Designer 512 2 2560x1600 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.

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Conclusion

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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500-Seat Reference Architecture with Cisco UCS C-Series and Citrix XenApp 7.5

1_TitleWith the World Cup games recently finished, I’m reminded of how rampantly soccer has swept across the U.S. in the last few years. Kids often start quite young — there are leagues for even five and six year olds! One element that helps younger kids enjoy their first soccer experience is that the balls are sized smaller in line with their height, making it easier for them to kick and control the ball. It’s an everyday example of how there can be better results when a tool is well matched with “entry-level” requirements.

Deploying an entry-level desktop virtualization solution follows similar logic. For a deployment to be successful, there must be a balance between the solution, its cost, and its ease of implementation, especially when the number of users is small. For large corporate environments with a few thousand users, it’s much easier to defray CAPEX costs across a large number of users, realize a low cost-per-seat, and rely on IT administrative staff to deploy and manage the solution. For smaller environments like branch offices or SMBs, deploying and managing a comprehensive desktop virtualization solution has generally been too complex and cost-prohibitive — until now.

Cisco and Citrix have collaborated on a new reference architecture that removes the barriers to smaller deployments, making it easy to deliver Microsoft Windows apps and desktops to a variety of client and mobile devices. Based on Cisco and Citrix technologies, the architecture creates a self-contained, easy-to-deploy, and centrally managed solution that supports 500 seats cost-effectively. This is a new Cisco and Citrix solution designed for fault-tolerant deployments of less than 1000 users, opening the door to new desktop virtualization opportunities in branch offices, SMBs, pilot projects, and test and development environments.

Citrix and Cisco test engineers validated the reference architecture and conducted a series of sizing tests using Login VSI. The testing demonstrated how the architecture can support up to 500 Medium/Knowledge Workers or 600 Light/Task Workers while delivering an outstanding end user experience. This blog gives a brief synopsis of the architecture, its benefits, the testing we conducted, and the test results. For more details, you can read the full reference architecture paper and test report here.

Architectural Overview

Figure 1 shows key solution components. Three Cisco UCS C240 M3 Rack Servers combine industry-standard, x86 servers with networking and storage access into a single converged system. The C-Series servers are part of the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) family of products. They have a compact 2RU form factor and use the same stateless, streamlined provisioning and operations model as Cisco UCS B-Series Blade Servers. Cisco UCS 6248UP 48-Port Fabric Interconnects supply 10-GigabitEthernet, Cisco Data Center Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and FCoE connectivity needed for the solution.

Figure 1. 500-User Architecture for Citrix XenApp 7.5 on Cisco UCS C240 M3 Rack Servers

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The Citrix XenApp 7.5 release delivers a Windows OS and applications to mobile devices (including laptops, tablets, and smartphones) with a native-touch experience and high performance. In this architecture, the XenApp software delivers 500 Hosted Shared Desktop (HSD) sessions using Remote Desktop Services (RDS). Citrix XenServer 6.2 is the hypervisor that supports virtual machines (VMs) running Microsoft Windows 2012 Server for XenApp and infrastructure services.

Using local storage is essential to achieving an entry-level price point. To make that possible with just twelve 10,000RPM SAS drives, each server includes an LSI Nytro MegaRAID card containing two 100GB flash memory cards for caching I/O operations. Using the LSI Nytro flash cache in conjunction with local storage is a key differentiator for this solution, allowing it to deliver responsive performance while conserving cost.

Why the Buzz?

The reference architecture is an exciting breakthrough for these reasons:

  • Self-contained, all-in-one solution. The architecture defines an entirely self-contained “in-a-box” solution with all of the infrastructure elements required for a XenApp 7.5 deployment, including Active Directory, DNS, SQL Server, and more. This takes the complexity out of deploying a desktop virtualization solution especially for small standalone environments.
  • Fault-tolerant architecture. The architecture locates redundant infrastructure virtual machines across two Cisco UCS C-Series servers to optimize availability. The solution also configures N+1 XenApp servers to maintain service levels even if a XenApp server failure occurs. In addition, Microsoft Distributed File System services are used across multiple servers to protect user data on local storage.
  • Easy to build, deploy, grow, and maintain. The compact design of Cisco UCS C-Series Rack Servers keeps the footprint small, making the solution easy to deploy in a small business or branch office setting. Since the C-Series servers are part of the Cisco UCS product family, they can be managed as standalone systems or alongside existing blade and rack servers using Cisco UCS Manager.

By adding Cisco UCS Central Software to the solution, companies can extend Cisco UCS Manager capabilities, allowing administrators to manage multiple Cisco UCS domains (such as domains for satellite offices) in conjunction with centrally defined policies. Both the C-Series Rack Servers and B-Series Blade Servers can be managed using the same set of management tools.

  • Low cost per seat. The architecture avoids expensive flash drives, instead caching IOPs in flash memory on the LSI Nytro cards. The choice of less expensive SAS drives helps to rein in solution costs while providing excellent end user experience.

Test Configuration

Figure 2 shows the virtual machines deployed across the three physical servers in the test configuration. Infrastructure VMs were hosted on two of the Cisco UCS C240 M3 Servers, and each server also hosted eight XenApp 7.5 HSD VMs. The redundancy across physical servers yields a highly available design.

Figure 2. Test Configuration

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Table 1 lists specific components in the test configuration.

Hardware components

Software components

3 x Cisco UCS C240-M3 Rack Servers (dual Intel   Xeon E5-2697v2 Processors @ 2.7 GHz, 256GB of memory, one Cisco VIC1225   network adapter) Cisco   UCS Manager 2.2(1d)
1 x LSI Nytro MegaRAID Controller NMR 8110-4i card   per server Citrix XenApp 7.5
12 x 600-GB 10,000 RPM hot-swappable hard disk   drives XenServer   6.2 Hypervisors and XenCenter 6.2
2 x Cisco 6248UP 48-port Fabric Interconnects Microsoft Windows   Server 2012 R2, 64-bit Remote Desktop Services (5vCPU, 24GB of memory per VM)

 

Local storage was organized into drive groups to create RAID 5 and 10 volumes for the hypervisor, infrastructure services, and XenApp VMs. The XenApp 7.5 VMs were provisioned with Machine Creation Service (MCS) differencing disks. MCS differencing disks are virtual hard disks that store desktop changes during Hosted Shared Desktop sessions and they incur a high number of IOPS. The LSI Nytro cards are specifically configured to accelerate IOPs for the I/O-intensive volumes that contain the MCS differencing disks.

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Test Methodology

To generate load, we used the Login VSI 3.7 software to simulate multiple users accessing the XenApp 7.5 environment and executing a typical end user workflow. Login VSI 3.7 tracks user experience statistics, looping through specific operations and measuring response times at regular intervals. Collected response times determine VSImax, the maximum number of users the test environment can support before performance degrades consistently. Because baseline response times can vary depending on the virtualization technology used, using a dynamically calculated threshold provides greater accuracy for cross-vendor comparisons. For this reason, Login VSI also reports VSImax Dynamic.

At the start of the testing, we executed performance monitoring scripts to record resource consumption for the hypervisor, virtual desktop, storage, and load generation software. At the beginning of each test run, we took the desktops out of maintenance mode, started the virtual machines, and waited for them to register. The Login VSI launchers then initiated the desktop sessions and began user logins (the ramp-up phase). Once all users were logged in, the steady state portion of the test began in which Login VSI executed the application workload, running applications like Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer (including a Flash video applet), printing, and Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The testing captured resource metrics during the entire workload lifecycle — XenApp virtual machine boot, user logon and desktop acquisition (ramp-up), user workload execution (steady state), and user logoff. Each test cycle was not considered passing unless all test users completed the ramp-up and steady state phases and all metrics were within permissible thresholds.

Test Results

Two test phases were conducted:

  1. Finding the recommended maximum density for a single physical server. This phase validated single-server scalability under a maximum recommended density with the RDS load. The maximum recommended load for a single server occurs when CPU or memory utilization peaks at 90-95% and the end user response times remain below 4000ms. This phase was used to determine the server N+1 count for the solution.
  2. Validating the solution at full scale. This phase validated multiple server scalability using the full test configuration.

The first phase was executed under the Login VSI Medium workload and then the Light workload to identify VSImax for each workload type. The validation phase was executed using the Medium workload only.

Phase 1: Single Server Recommended Maximum Density

We first tested different combinations of XenApp 7.5 server VMs and virtual CPU (vCPU) combinations, finding that the best performance was achieved when the number of vCPUs assigned to the VMs did not exceed the number of hyper-threaded cores available on the server. (In other words, not overcommitting CPU resources provides the best user experience.) For the Intel E5-2697v2 processors, 24 cores with hyper-threading equates to 48 vCPUs. The highest density was observed at eight XenApp VMs per physical server, with each VM configured with five vCPUs and 24GB RAM.

The first test sequence determined VSImax for each workload on a single server, indicating the density that a single server can support before the end user experience degrades. Based on this value, we added one additional server to the total number of physical servers needed so that the full-scale configuration achieves optimal performance under normal operating conditions and enable N+1 server fault tolerance.

Medium Workload: Single Server Recommended Maximum Density

For the single server Medium Workload, guided by VSImax scores, we determined that 250 user sessions per host gave us optimal end user experience and good resource utilization. Figures 3 and 4 show end user response times and CPU utilization metrics for the Medium workload.

Figure 3. Single Server, Medium Workload, End User Response Times at 250 Sessions

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Figure 4. Single Server, Medium Workload, CPU Utilization

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Light Workload: Single Server Recommended Maximum Density

For the single server Light Workload, we determined that 325 user sessions per host gave us optimal end user experience and good server utilization metrics. Figures 5 and 6 show end user response times and CPU utilization metrics for the Light workload.

Figure 5. Single Server, Light Workload, End User Response Times at 325 Sessions

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Figure 6. Single Server, Light Workload, CPU Utilization

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Phase 2: Full-Scale Configuration Testing

Using all three Cisco UCS C240 M3 Rack Servers, we performed 500-session Login VSI Medium Workload tests to validate the solution at scale, which provided excellent results. The Login VSI Index Average and Average Response times tracked well below 2 seconds throughout the run (Figure 7), indicating an outstanding end user experience throughout the test.

Figure 7. Full-Scale Configuration, Medium Workload, End User Response Times at 500 Sessions

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Figures 8 through 13 show performance data for one of the three Cisco UCS C240 M3 servers in the full configuration test. The graphs are representative of data collected for all servers in the three-server test.

Figure 8. Full-Scale Configuration, Medium Workload, CPU Utilization

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Figure 9. Full-Scale Configuration, Medium Workload, IOPS

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Figure 10. Full-Scale Configuration, Medium Workload, IO Throughput (Mbps)

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Figure 11. Full-Scale Configuration, Medium Workload, IO Wait

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Figure 12. Full-Scale Configuration, Medium Workload, IO Latency

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Figure 13. Full-Scale Configuration, Medium Workload, IO Ave. Queue Length

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What about XenDesktop?

Given the same hardware configuration, are you curious how well XenDesktop with Windows 7 virtual desktops perform? Or, perhaps, a 500-seat deployment is initially too much and you just want to “kick some tires” with a single UCS server. In either case, here’s a 200-seat XenDesktop reference architecture that provides the same server specifications and configuration as the 500-seat XenApp configuration discussed above: Deploy 200 Citrix XenDesktop 7.1 Hosted Virtual Desktops on Cisco UCS C240 M3 Rack Server with LSI Nytro MegaRAID and SAS Drives.

 

Conclusion

Desktop virtualization is an efficient way to deliver the latest Microsoft Windows OS and applications not only to traditional client PCs, but also to the user’s choice of mobile device types. At the same time, desktop virtualization centralizes and protects corporate data and intellectual property, simplifying desktop and OS management. Until now, it’s been difficult for small to medium-sized organizations to realize these advantages because of the complexity and up-front costs associated with building out a pilot or entry-level configuration.

Because this low-cost configuration enables a 100% self-contained solution, it overcomes previous obstacles to deploying desktop virtualization in small business or branch office settings. The architecture provides an extremely easy-to-deploy, fault tolerant, Cisco UCS-managed infrastructure for Citrix XenApp 7.5 hosted shared desktops. For many, the solution greatly simplifies the entry point into desktop virtualization, making it easier to build out and manage a 500-seat standalone deployment.

To read more about the 500-seat XenApp 7.5 reference architecture and the validation testing, see the full white paper: Reference Architecture for 500-Seat Citrix XenApp 7.5 Deployment on Cisco UCS C240-M3 Rack Servers with On-Board SAS Storage and LSI Nytro MegaRAID Controller.

Frank Anderson, Senior Solutions Architect, Cisco Systems, Inc.

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Desktop Virtualization On Your Terms – Flexibility and Choice with Architectures That Fit

Desktop Virtualization On Your Terms – Flexibility and Choice with Architectures That Fit

I recently had the opportunity to host several customers in a roundtable discussion, exploring their experiences in deploying desktop and application virtualization, the challenges encountered, and the benefits they’ve reaped.  It was an engaging dialog with organizations spanning mid-market, enterprise to large service prVirt_during Webinar w_Jim Mchughovider environments deploying either Citrix XenDesktop or VMware Horizon View desktop virtualization software.  In case you missed it, you can check out the event here.  I mention this because it provides a valuable backdrop to some important news Cisco is sharing today, centered on helping IT organizations (like those I met with) more quickly achieve success in VDI.

Over the last few years, Cisco UCS has rapidly established itself as a leader among competitors with a much longer history in the server marketplace.  Why is that?  If you talk with anyone who’s implemented UCS in their data center, they’ll instantly tell you about the operational streamlining and simplification that UCS Service Profile Templates offer, the value of a unified data center fabric for LAN and SAN, and the performance derived from a platform that was purpose built for highly scalable, virtualized environments.

It shouldVirt_info graphic_UDC to End User be no surprise then, that when organizations evaluate their options for server infrastructure to host virtual desktop workloads, the same UCS core value proposition extends nicely to desktop virtualization – the benefits of which are multiplied, in fact, given that virtual desktops can consume infrastructure resources and capacity in unique ways compared to other mission critical enterprise applications.  We’ve therefore seen great response from our customers (as demonstrated in our webinar/panel discussion) when it comes to the fitness of UCS in hosting virtual desktops.

What we’ve come to find through our customer’s experiences, is that the vendor marketplace has traditionally taken a one-size-fits-all mentality around VDI architectures that either forces organizations to overspend CAPEX on approaches that are tuned for much larger environments, or wrestle with an economized approach that results in poor desktop user experience.  Clearly, there’s a spectrum of IT implementation use cases that apply, when we’re talking VDI.  Persistent desktops vs. floating, SAN in place vs. greenfield, one-hundred seats vs. tens of thousands, etc. so one size will never adequately fit all!

For this very reason, we’re expanding our portfolio of desktop virtualization solution architectures, along with the ecosystem of technology partners who are helping us accelerate the path to VDI success for environments of all sizes.  While Cisco enjoys a strategic relationship with NetApp and EMC, we’re now  offering desktop virtualization solutions that also include technologies from partners such as Nimble Storage, Nexenta, Atlantis Computing, Fusion-io, Tegile and others in process.

With these partners’ technologies come new capabilities that exploit key trends in the VDI and data center marketplace, including the proliferation of flash-based storage solutions, and appliance based approaches that mitigate the need for embedded SAN infrastructure and expertise (especially in smaller environments).  Additionally, unlike our competitors who are narrowly focused on their own storage portfolio, Cisco can offer our customers the flexibility and choice they desire in selecting the storage technology and solution for VDI, that best fits their environment.

I encourage you to learn more about this exciting new portfolio of architectures by checking out the assets below.

Please also check out the webinar “Customer Insights: Desktop Virtualization On Your Terms

Our featured guests include:

  • Mark Balch, Director UCS Product Management, Cisco
  • David Johnson, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research
  • Charles Rosse, Baptist Memorial HealthCare
  • Udaya Kiran, WiPro Technologies
  • Robert Dixon, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • And myself (Jim McHugh) as your Host/Moderator

Check it out and let me know what you think in the Comments section!

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Architecture Options for Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solutions

Today Cisco is introducing an expanded architectural portfolio and partner ecosystem in support of our successful desktop virtualization solution built on Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS).  Cisco UCS market traction has been phenomenal over the last 3 years. In fact, desktop virtualization has been one of the top workloads deployed on UCS as IT organizations apply the benefits of our stateless, simplified operations model, expansive I/O, and scalable performance to desktop workloads in the data center. Combined with unique product integration and the software eco-system partners such as VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, Cisco has delivered a number of reference designs with our strategic storage partners such as EMC and NetApp. Typically, these architectures were based on designs that easily scale from supporting a few hundred virtual desktops to thousands of desktops.

We have seen an inflection point with the perfect storm of the evolution of storage options, desktop software maturity, and data center architectures. One of the important changes in the storage market is the emergence of flash storage to address performance problems.

Taking advantage of enhanced UCS features and expanding the eco-system of storage partners including Atlantis Computing, Fusion-io, LSI, Nexenta, Nimble Storage and Tegile, Cisco is defining a broader portfolio of data center architectures for delivering desktop virtualization solutions – on-board architecture, simplified architecture and scalable architecture. “Converged” or “Unified” infrastructure stacks such as FlexPod and vBlock have, and will continue to be another successful option for desktop delivery infrastructure.  Let me walk you through each of these architectural approaches.

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