How data center technology influences EUC capabilities

EUC tools such as VDI and cloud storage help users get work done, but those capabilities rely heavily on data center technology and infrastructure.

End-user computing products offer a variety of technologies to help users get work done, but their effectiveness

relies heavily on data center technology and resources. As a result, data center tech drives EUC, not the other way around.

EUC products provide many different avenues that help users work, such as application streaming, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), cloud storage, application virtualization and more. But supplying all of those things to workers and ensuring a good user experience has been difficult because the data center technology that EUC products rely on -- such as storage, compute, memory and networking -- have been limited. Plus, EUC products and technologies were confusing for admins at first.

A traditional desktop architect was typically familiar with Windows OSes, end-user applications, Active Directory and end-user hardware such as laptops and desktops. But when Microsoft and Citrix released Terminal Services and Metaframe respectively, desktop architects had to learn to design and manage products that had heavy infrastructure needs. VDI created an even heavier reliance on infrastructure technologies and many architects had trouble understanding how to size out the infrastructure components that new end user computing (EUC) technology needed. Server, storage and networking technology have all changed over the years, however, and they continue to evolve -- making it easier for IT administrators and architects to meet the demands of EUC.

User consolidation

The first data center technology that is a major factor in supporting EUC products is the server. EUC technologies tend to include some form of user consolidation: With Terminal Services and VDI, admins' goal has been to consolidate as many users as possible onto a small server footprint. With Terminal Services -- before virtualization -- getting 25-30 users on a single server was an accomplishment for many architects.

Today, virtualization is the underlying technology of many EUC programs and newer CPUs with hundreds of GBs allowing admins to fit more than 125 users with individual virtual desktops on one server. Server technologies follow Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every two years. This means the consolidation ratios for servers will continue to go up, as long as OSes continue to use less server resources over time.

Storage capabilities

Storage and networking technologies are also important to delivering EUC technology, although the storage industry didn't have a large hand in driving EUC until VDI was born. In the years prior to VDI, storage was not heavily used because the OS images were fairly static and admins made most changes via file shares and Active Directory. Terminal Services and Metaframe also typically relied on local storage in the servers. With the introduction of VDI, each user could receive his own OS with his own amount of storage. That meant every VDI user would need another 50 GB of SAN space, which became very expensive and not scalable.

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To deploy a 500-user VDI program in the early years, admins would have needed 10 terabytes (TBs) of disk. But when VMware developed linked clones, the problem shifted from how many TBs the infrastructure needed to how many IOPS would serve the same number of users. This is where the storage industry stumbled for a few years -- until flash technologies became mainstream. Now when an architect designs an EUC environment, flash is the core storage technology nine times out of 10, whether it is in the local servers, a hybrid SAN or an all-flash SAN.

When technologies such as EMC XtremIO and Pure Storage came out, the storage game changed even more. This new tech allows EUC architects to take advantage of ultra-dense storage configurations. Over the next few years, EUC environments will be able to scale to thousands of users simply because storage will no longer be a limitation.

Networking changes

Networking encompasses server interconnects, WAN connectivity, wireless products and virtual private network strategy. These technologies change continuously -- not nearly as fast a Moore's Law, but at a much faster rate than storage.

Comparing today's network technologies to their state when Terminal Services first came out, all facets of the network have dramatically changed: Home users have cable and fiber to their houses, server interconnects have standardized at 10 GbE and most organizations now have 10 Mg through multiple gigabit links.

The fact that networking technologies have advanced so much and continue to change is driving the need to supply a better end-user experience. When an organization is building an EUC environment, architects expect to increase networking. As admins add more users into the environment, organizations need to support more bandwidth in the data center. Of course, EUC technologies have done a great job at improving the network. Networking is a true EUC enabler and will continue to be for some time to come. Despite the limitations of the data center technology and infrastructure, users still need to connect.

This was first published in May 2014

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