Building a Predictable and Cost-Effective Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a desktop-oriented service that hosts user desktop environments on servers and/or blade PCs. I recall having conversations with clients 4-5 years ago around VDI, when many predicted that it’d be the next big thing in IT efficiency. All of the efficiencies of server virtualization (shared compute & storage resources, ability to provision/de-provision on demand, simplified patch management, monitoring and support, etc.) could now be easily applied to the desktop environment. It was the hot topic of 2010/2011, everyone was talking about it but very few truly jumped on-board mainly because of cost considerations. A full-scale VDI deployment still required expensive assets: OS licenses, VMware licenses, servers, storage, etc. While we could illustrate anticipated soft cost savings, i.e. operating expenses such as ongoing management and administration, it was difficult to justify in lieu of hard dollar savings. Ability to scale and maintain performance was also a challenge, given the VDI environment comprised of physically discrete infrastructure of compute, storage, and network.

Fast forward to today, clients are not only talking about desktop virtualization, they are rapidly adopting it across the enterprise. We believe this is largely due to the proliferation of converged and hyper-converged infrastructure, and players such as Nutanix have completely changed the game. With compute, storage, and network now fully integrated (in a distributed manner) along with ‘single pane of glass’ UI that provides an integrated analytics dashboard for the data center, Nutanix has enabled the customer to truly have a software defined architecture, which is ideal for a VDI deployment. It is also a turnkey solution that comes ready to support desktop brokers, such as VMware Horizon View and Citrix XenDesktop, as well as supporting toolsets such as LiquidWare and Unidesk. Finally, this virtual computing platform would support every type of VDI user—from task and knowledge workers to power and data scientists. This unique platform and architecture provide customers the simplest path to enterprise deployment with the agility of public cloud providers.

The Nutanix infrastructure is a scale-out cluster of high-performance nodes (or servers), each running a standard hypervisor and containing processors, memory, and local storage. Each node runs virtual machines just like a standard virtual machine host (please refer to the diagram below).


This out-of-the-box infrastructure solution eliminates high cost and the extensive risks posed by conventional virtual desktop solutions. Customers can minimize their upfront cost by starting small (as small as 3 nodes in a single 2U appliance) and adding nodes as they grow (scaling from 50 to tens of thousands of desktops), maintaining absolutely linear and predictable performance. Clients also reduce risk by leveraging pre-validated reference architecture. Nutanix offers a ‘Virtual Desktop Bundle’ offering that allows clients to purchase a fully baked VDI solution based on the number of users.

In addition to hyper-converged infrastructure, we’ve noted other trends as Desktop Virtualization continues to gain momentum in 2015:

  • Blurred lines between Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).
    • As usage on mobile devices continues to proliferate, attention is turning towards mobile device management (MDM), security and support.
    • MDMs need to step up to ensure a consistent management experience across multiple types of devices (ie. PC, Google Android, Apple iOS).
  • Operating System (OS) irrelevance.
    • Clients are reluctantly being forced into Windows 8 and, with thin client computing becoming more feasible, the OS becomes irrelevant to a certain degree and users have choices (ie. Linux, Google Chrome OS, etc).
  • Solid-state storage for VDI deployments.
    • Traditional vendors and new vendors (ie. Nutanix, Nimble, and Pure) are gaining market traction – delivering unlimited IOPS per desktop solves a major pain area for VDI deployments.
  • Open source VDI.
    • Early stages project underway to deliver VDI desktops from an OpenStack Cloud.
    • Hypervisor license costs may not be a huge cost of a VDI deployment, but every opportunity to save money helps!

We’re delighted to see technology transformations, such as hyper-convergence and web-scale technologies, that allow VDI to finally take off and deliver value to the enterprise! It will be interesting to see the continued evolution as momentum gains around open standards, which will deliver greater flexibility and choice to both the business and the end user.

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