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Virtual Desktops: Just Another Workload?

November 11, 2010 - 6 Comments

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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  1. PS> Performance and optimization = user experience Check out some of the discussions and videos posted on where CSC, Gartner, Intel, and RingCube talk about the need for better user experience for virtual desktops. User experience is still the primary barrier for broad VDI adoption. Glad to see Cisco is taking a stand to help address this important issue.

    • Hi Doug - thanks for sharing the perspectives! We definitely believe our priorities are aligned with customer VDI adoption pain points, and that the CVDs, while exhaustive in content and detail, will help clients de-risk these initiatives. I like the steak/sizzle analogy - very appropriate! BTW - glad you found some familiar faces :) in our webcast - I'll be checking out your site as well!

  2. Tony - Excellent blog and couldn't agree more with the points you are making. The 3 biggest barriers to VDI adoption are: USER EXPERIENCE, COST, COMPLEXITY. You are absolutely right that the "user experience" is really the biggest barrier of the 3 for broad Enterprise adoption. Surprisingly, Cisco's announcement today addressed all 3 obstacles. I wish it would have done a bit more on the cost and complexity challenge but I'm sure more details on that will come closer to March 2011. Watching the webinar, I was very impressed. I used to work in Manny Rivelo's organization at Cisco 11 years ago and he did an excellent job on the webcast today with Barry O'Sullivan and Phil Sherburne. I'll need to go back and watch it again on-demand. ;) March 2011 will be a very important milestone for the virtual desktop industry. Fingers crossed that the Cius and some of the other new endpoints will meet the market requirements and user expectations for a corporate desktop replacement with VDI. However, even if the first version of the VXC endpoint (phone+thin client+tablet combo) misses the mark, all the systems validation work Cisco is doing is critical for VDI adoption. The industry will owe Cisco a great deal if you guys provide the most comprehensive blueprint on how to deliver VDI that is cost effective, simple to manage, and users love working on (rich experience of video, voice, collaboration, etc). Customers, partners, and systems integrators are in need of a VDI blueprint. This will be huge. Of course, it will be doubly significant if Cisco's new endpoints are embraced versus just the networking and server gear. The endpoints are the "sizzle" (user experience) and the datacenter equipment is the "steak" (cost, simplicity). Cisco will need all 3 (user experience, cost, simplicity) to win big in the virtual desktop market. Exciting times ahead. Best of luck! Doug Dooley

  3. Tony, Great blog post. A great user experience is the key for a success desktop virtualization roll out. Users will not accept a sub standard desktop. (Hint: take a look at Citrix HDX technologies for great user experience for virtual desktops Virtual Desktop workload is a complete different beast than application/other vm workloads. IT must consider CPU usage, bandwidth required by user, memory utilization, storage, and what applications users will be running on the desktop (office applications vs high graphic intensive apps). The virtual image itself needs to be optimized for different user groups and delivered differently depending on the end user requirement ( I work for Citrix

    • Hi Vishal, thanks for the feedback - looking forward to our continued collaboration in this space!