Awesome end-user experience is what Desktop Virtualization is all about!

Hello Everyone! Back again to talk to you about our latest Cisco Validated Design for the Desktop Virtualization (DV) space from Citrix Synergy 2013 in Anaheim, CA.  This one is particularly interesting because of the variety of Cisco, Citrix and EMC technologies deployed.

As you know, over the past several years DV has grown at a stunning rate. Our studies in the past have focused on 100% hosted virtual desktop solutions.  In the real world that our Customers live in, there is a mix of hosted shared desktops (Citrix XenApp) and hosted virtual desktops (Citrix XenDesktop.)

So, we set out to show that the combined power of Cisco UCS, Citrix Desktop Virtualization products, and an EMC VNX7500 multi-protocol storage system with Fast Cache could provide screaming fast performance under a large scale, real-world mixed workload. After all, awesome end user experience is what we have to deliver!

We recognize that a fair percentage of the hosted virtual desktops deployed today are persistent desktops, each with a dedicated virtual disk and each assigned to a specific user. While this type of deployment provides the end user with maximum flexibility and control, it is a very, very expensive proposition.

Citrix introduced Personal vDisk with XenDesktop 5.6 so that Customers can reduce desktop virtualization costs by using a shared base desktop image for all users in a particular group and giving only those users who need the ability to install non-standard applications space to do so. This technique saves significant CapEx (shared storage space) and ongoing OpEx (administration and backup) costs. For that reason, we included Citrix Personal vDisk in the solution.

We have laid out a prescriptive guide on how to deploy a large scale, mixed use case DV solution that includes:

  • 1000 Seats of Citrix XenDesktop 5.6 FP1 Pooled Hosted Virtual Desktops with PVS write cache on local SSD drives
  • 1000 Seats of Citrix XenDesktop 5.6 FP1 Hosted Virtual Desktops with Personal vDisk
  • 2000 Seats of Citrix XenApp 6.5 Hosted Shared Desktops

The solution was built and tested at the Citrix Santa Clara, CA Solutions Lab in partnership with Cisco and EMC.

We demonstrated outstanding end user experience with all three workloads running simultaneously at scale.

And because in the real world we don’t ask users to stand in line at the beginning of the day or after lunch to log in and start their applications, we required as a success criteria that all 4000 users be logged in and using their applications within 30 minutes.

Here’s a look at our Login VSI performance chart, from zero to 4000 mixed workload users in 30 minutes:


You can rely on Cisco Validated Designs to provide you with detailed guidance on how to build an identical DV delivery system in your company!

As always, the keys to a successful deployment of a large scale HVD environment start with:

  • Detailed characterization of the virtual workloads
  • Desktop Broker that supports efficient streaming capabilities
  • Reliable, fast User Profile management
  • Compute platform that provides linear scalability, rapid expandability, and excellent management tools across hundreds to thousands of servers
  • Network infrastructure that provides the right amount of bandwidth to the right traffic
  • Storage system that is capable of efficiently handling massive IOPS, both on the read side for boot up and the write side for DV ramp up and steady state
  • A robust hypervisor capable of supporting advanced capabilities required for HVDs
  • Fault tolerance at all levels of the solution, producing a highly available system

Cisco UCS together with Citrix technologies, EMC VNX storage, and VMware vSphere provide the key foundation for a high performance, highly available HVD environment:

  • Login VSI 3.7 Medium workload was used to represent a typical knowledge worker for all workloads
  • Citrix XenDesktop 5.6 FP1 with Citrix Provisioning Server 6.1 provided the ultimate desktop streaming technology with the smallest storage footprint
  • Citrix User Profile Manager was used to manage 4000 unique desktop user profiles
  • Cisco UCS B200 M3 blade servers provided awesome compute resources and Cisco UCS 6248UP Fabric Interconnects (FIs) managed server hardware, network and storage for the environment.
  • Cisco enterprise 300GB SSDs were used for Citrix PVS 6.1 write-cache drives on the hosts for the 1000 pooled hosted virtual desktop cluster, providing significant write IOPS reduction to the shared storage
  • Cisco UCS Service Profile Templates and Service Profiles made server deployment fast, efficient and insured that each blade was provisioned exactly the same as the next.
  • Cisco UCS Manager 2.1, with tight integration with VMware ESXi, handled management of all of the blades across the 5 VMware clusters used in our solution seamlessly
  • Cisco Nexus 5548UP Access Switches and Cisco Nexus 1000V distributed virtual switches in conjunction with our FIs provided end to end Quality of Service for all traffic types from the virtual desktop through the hypervisor, the FIs and through the Nexus 5548UPs – all at 10 GE or 8 Gb FC!
  • Cisco VM-FEX (Virtual Machine Fabric Extender) was utilized in the XenApp 6.5 cluster, providing virtual machine hypervisor bypass for the vNIC. We were able to support 8% more XenApp virtual desktop sessions per host by deploying VM-FEX
  • EMC VNX7500 with Fast Cache, provided the outstanding read and write IO to support 4000 virtual desktops during boot up, ramp up, steady state and log off
  • Our design provides N+1 server fault tolerance at the VMware cluster level. Another real-world differentiator for Cisco!

Here is a look at the hardware used in the solution:


Heading over to catch some of the great sessions at Synergy 2013. Look forward to hearing from you about your real-world desktop virtualization workloads!

For more information download the Cisco Validated Design at:


And for more information on Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solutions, go to:


Solution Brief:






Mike Brennan

Sr. Product Manager

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and Graphics