VDI – are we nearly there yet?

desktop_virtualizationThe conundrum of virtual desktops is one I’ve been watching for what feels like a long time now, must be a good 3- 4 years of wondering when it will finally hit the big time. Yet still it hasn’t made that leap into becoming the “accepted norm” in the same way server virtualisation has. There’s no doubting the benefits it can bring in terms of ease of management and also allowing greater use of BYOD (the latter could be very useful for students) but for a few reasons the technology hasn’t really taken off in the way you might expect.

At first that was down to the poor graphical performance, fixed a few years ago with HDX \ PCoIP and now it’s really storage holding things back. The sheer number of IOPS needed to virtualise hundreds \ thousands of desktops has always made the upfront cost look prohibitive and until the fairly recent development with SSDs the resulting shelves of hard drives didn’t look particularly green either!

But it seems times are changing (again) as I’ve seen some interesting new ideas coming through at the last couple of events I’ve been to where we’re finally seeing some new ideas that might finally make VDI more mainstream. Running the VMs entirely in RAM seems to be one method as favoured by the Atlantis product I heard about today, seeing as memory is (comparatively) cheap compared to storage it seems like a good way to get high performance at a lower price. Combine it with some hard drives to store persistent data and you could potentially have the best of both worlds. Another plus point is that it works with existing VDI products which have the hypervisor, management and graphics side of things sorted so no need to reinvent the wheel there.

The other option that was brought up was PCI-e flash drives that could be installed in each host server to be used for caching, thus reducing reliability on the SAN storage, seems more expensive than the purely in-RAM method but still looks a better option than current methods as you at least avoid any network latency going to \ from the SAN.

Overall it seems like the little startups that have sprung out of nowhere are making EMC, VMware et al raise their game so hopefully given a few months we might see the heavyweights release some more efficient VDI solutions that will be worthy of serious consideration.

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