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VDI “The Missing Questions” #4: How much SPECint is enough

February 25, 2013 at 6:35 am PST

In the first few posts in this series, we have hopefully shown that not all cores are created equal and that not all GHz are created equal. This generates challenges when comparing two CPUs within a processor family and even greater challenges when comparing CPUs from different processor families. If you read a blog or a study that showed 175 desktops on a blade with dual E7-2870 processor, how many desktops can you expect from the E7-2803 processor? Or an E5 processor? Our assertion is that SPECint is a reasonable metric for predicting VDI density, and in this blog I intend to show you how much SPECint is enough [for the workload we tested].

You are here. As a quick recap, this is a series of blogs covering the topic of VDI, and here are the posts in this series:

Addition and subtraction versus multiplication and division. Shawn already explained the concept of SPEC in question 2, so I won’t repeat it. You’ve probably noticed that Shawn talked about “blended” SPEC whereas I’m covering SPECint (integer). As it turns out, the majority of task workers really exercise the integer portion of a processor rather than the floating point portion of a processor. Therefore, I’ll focus on SPECint in this post. If you know more about your users’ workload, you can skew your emphasis more or less towards SPECint or SPECfp and create your own blend.

The method to the madness. Let me take you on a short mathematical journey using the figure below. Starting at the top, we know each E5-2665 processor has a SPECint of 305. It doesn’t matter how many cores it has or how fast those cores are clocked. It has a SPECint score of 305 (as compared to 187.5 for the E5-2643 processor). Continuing down the figure below, each blade we tested had two processors, so the E5-2665 based blade has a SPECint of 2 x 305… or 610. The E5-2665 blade has a much higher SPECint of 610 than the E5-2643 blade with just 375. And it produced many more desktops as you can see from the graph embedded in the figure (the graph should look familiar to you from the first “question” in this series).

And now comes the simple math to get the SPECint requirement for each virtual desktop in each test system:

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VDI “The Missing Questions” #3: Realistic Virtual Desktop Limits

So this is the Million Dollar Question, right? You, along with the executives sponsoring your particular VDI project wanna know: How many desktops can I run on that blade? It’s funny how such an “it depends” question becomes a benchmark for various vendors blades, including said vendor here.

Well, for the purpose of this discussion series, the goal here is not to reach some maximum number by spending hours in the lab tweaking various knobs and dials of the underlying infrastructure. The goal of this overall series is to see what happens to the number of sessions as we change various aspects of the compute: CPU Speed/Cores, Memory Speed and capacity. Our series posts are as follows:


You are Invited!  If you’ve been enjoying our blog series, please join us for a free webinar discussing the VDI Missing Questions, with Doron, Shawn and myself (Jason)!  Access the webinar here!

But for the purpose of this question, let’s look simply at the scaling numbers at the appropriate amount of RAM for the the VDI count we will achieve (e.g. no memory overcommit) and maximum allowed memory speed (1600MHz).

As Doron already revealed in question 1, we did find some maximum numbers in our test environment. Other than the customized Cisco ESX build on the hosts, and tuning our Windows 7 template per VMware’s View Optimization Guide for Windows 7, the VMware View 5.1.1 environment was a fairly default build out designed for simplicity of testing, not massive scale. We kept unlogged VMs in reserve like you would in the real world to facilitate the ability for users to login in quickly…yes that may affect some theoretical maximum number you could get out of the system, but again…not the goal.

And the overall test results look a little something like this:

E5-2643 Virtual Desktops

E5-2665 Virtual Desktops

1vCPU, 1600MHz



2vCPU, 1600MHz




As explained in Question 1, cores really do matter…but even then, surprisingly the two CPUs are neck and neck in the race until around 40 VM mark. Then the 2 vCPU desktops on the quad core CPU really take a turn for the worse:



When a VM has two (or more) vCPUs, the hypervisor must find two (or more) physical cores to plant the VM on for execution within a fairly strict timeframe to keep that VM’s multiple vCPUs in sync.


Multiple vCPUs create a constraint that takes time for the hypervisor to sort out every time it makes a scheduling decision, not to mention you simply have more cores allocated for hypervisor to schedule for the same number of sessions: DOUBLE that of the one vCPU VM. Only way to fix this issue is with more cores.

That said: the 2 vCPU VMs continue to scale consistently on the E5-2665 with its double core count to the E5-2643. At around the 85 session mark, the even the E5-2665 can no longer provide a consistent experience with 2vCPU VDI sessions running. I’ll stop here and jump off that soap box…we’ll dig more into the multiple vCPU virtual desktop configuration in a later question (hint hint hint)…

Now let’s take a look at the more traditional VDI desktop: the 1 vCPU VM:

With the quad-core E5-2643, performance holds strong until around the 60 session mark, then latency quickly builds as the 4000ms threshold is hit at 81 sessions. But look at the trooper that the E5-2665 is though! Follow its 1 vCPU scaling line in the chart and all those cores show a very consistent latency line up to around the 100 session mark, where then it becomes somewhat less consistent to the 4000ms VSImax of 130. 130 responsive systems on a single server! I remember when it was awesome to get 15 or so systems going on a dual socket box 10 or so years ago, and we are at 10x the quantity today!

Let’s say you want to impose harsher limits to your environment. You’ve got a pool of users that are a bit more sensitive to response time than others (like your executive sponsors!). 4000ms response time may be too much and you want to halve that to 2000ms. According to our test scenario, the E5-2665 can STILL sustain around 100 sessions before the scaling becomes a bit more erratic in this workload simulation.


Logic would suggest half the response time may mean half the sessions, but that simply isn’t the case as shown here. We reach Point of Chaos (POC!) where there is very inconsistent response times and behaviors as we continue to add sessions. In other words: It does not take many more desktop sessions in a well running environment that is close to the “compute cliff” before the latency doubles and your end users are not happy. But on the plus side, and assuming storage I/O latency isn’t an issue, our testing shows that you do not need to drop that many sessions from each individual server in your cluster to rapidly recover session response time as well.

So in conclusion, the E5-2643, with its high clock speed and lower core count, is best suited for smaller deployments of less than 80 desktops per blade. The E5-2665, with its moderate clock speed and higher core count, is best suited for larger deployments of greater than 100 desktops per blade.


Next up…what is the minimum amount of normalized CPU SPEC does a virtual desktop need?


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City Turns to Collaboration Solutions to Support Mobility

February 14, 2013 at 4:00 am PST

As we quickly approach Telework Week 2013 in March, I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion around the benefits of telework and the level of growth we have seen over the last few years in the demand for mobility.

Mobility is sometimes easier said than done, though, especially when you are a city government looking at bandwidth increases and potential infrastructure upgrades all while providing employees with a seamless virtual experience and avoiding any downtime in the process. This is exactly what the City of Jacksonville, NC did, and they are setting an example for other cities in similar situations.

The City of Jacksonville home to more than 70,000 residents and currently has more than  500 end users in its operations center that is supported by the city’s Information Technology Services (ITS) department. As the employees became more dependent on the ITS department, the department decided it needed to refresh its current infrastructure. Read More »

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Realize the Promise of BYOD with the Next Generation Education Workspace

February 6, 2013 at 8:33 pm PST

Can 1 +1 really = 3 (or more)?  Consider the opportunity presented by the thoughtful convergence of BYOD and virtual desktop technologies.

BYOD is one of the most important trends in education technology today. However, many BYOD initiatives are limited to providing personal devices with basic network connectivity via the campus Wi-Fi network. Traditional virtual desktops (VDI) are not new in education. Historically, VDI has allowed the delivery of non-persistent desktops, primarily to thin clients.

Through the Cisco Unified Workspace for Education, schools, colleges and universities can now provide next generation education workspaces that are virtual, social, mobile and collaborative. The Cisco Unified Workspace for Education integrates the Cisco BYOD and Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) Smart Solutions to provide students, faculty, and staff with the flexibility of using any device to access any information, any application, and any expertise—from anywhere.

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VDI “The Missing Questions” #1: Core Count vs. Core Speed

January 31, 2013 at 8:40 am PST

Choosing the right compute platform for your VDI environment requires both science and art. You have to balance CPU and memory characteristics against your expected workload profile and your desired density. At the end of the day, VDI has to meet some cost criteria in order to go from a fun science project to a funded program in your company. That means you can’t just throw the top bin CPU at the problem; you have to pick the right CPU. This is further complicated by the fact that there is not one CPU that is ideal for all VDI workloads. There is no magical bill of materials at the end of this series of blogs, but we will attempt to make your VDI decisions based more on science than art.

Strength in numbers? Or strength in speed? As Tony said in his introduction, we had several involved questions related to VDI that we honestly couldn’t answer… so we decided to start testing. This will be a series of blogs that attempts to answer practical questions like “when is processor A better than processor B?” And of course you then have to ask “when is processor B better than processer A?” In this first installment in the series, I will tackle the question of whether the number of cores or the core speed is more important when the goal is to achieve the best desktop density per host. Here is a handy guide to the other posts in this series:

The usual suspects. Throughout this series, we will focus on two processors. We picked them because they are popular and cost effective, yet quite different from each other. They are not top bin processors. Take a look at the table below for a comparison.

Note: Prices in this table are recommended prices published by Intel at and may vary from actual prices you pay for each processor. The SPEC performance numbers are an average of SPEC results published by many OEMs (at across many platforms. These are not Cisco-specific SPEC numbers.

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