How storage, network and server technology have matured to meet VDI

Network, storage and server technology are now mature enough that they help VDI environments scale and perform well without outrageous expenses.

The VDI market is mostly mature, and so are some of the most important supporting infrastructure elements, including storage arrays, server technology and networking requirements.

To properly build a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment, you need an ecosystem of storage, servers and endpoints, as well as networking, monitoring, application virtualization, profile management and security tools. To be developed enough to work well with VDI, these technologies and infrastructure components have to be able to handle what I call the "VDI Triple Play": high performance on a large scale with minimal cost. That has been tough to achieve for most of these technologies, and some are more mature than others. Luckily, infrastructure that's vital to VDI is approaching adulthood.

Storage arrays

In the past, storage arrays have caused scalability concerns when it comes to VDI. Before flash drives, the performance could not scale with capacity unless you had an enterprise-grade array that was heavy with cache. Unfortunately, the cost of VDI skyrocketed when these arrays were built to meet performance and storage requirements.

In the past three years, a new breed of storage arrays that use flash in a multitude of ways has emerged. These arrays can perform front-end caching or act as a high-performance tier, and there are even all-flash storage arrays. Now, even just a little bit of flash can drop your spindle count tremendously, which drives down the cost of storage for VDI. Additionally, a mix of drive types in an array helps meet storage needs.

Deduplication technologies for in-line storage are now a factor in the storage array world, as well. These technologies introduce a whole new economy of scale, but because it's still new, deduplication drives down the storage array's maturity factor slightly. Overall, storage arrays are very mature, and they're helping VDI achieve the Triple Play.

Server technology

Server technologies are one of the most mature in the VDI industry because advancements in central processing units and memory components happen frequently. Those resources make servers one of the core components of VDI, and it's especially important to properly size your servers for your VDI deployment.

Until two or three years ago, servers could not scale past 30 to 60 VDI sessions without significant cost. But now, you can get more than 24 high-performance cores and at least 3 TB of RAM in a dual-socket server. This growth allows VDI to scale much better, and with fewer servers. Today, you can run more than 150 VDI sessions per server. Server technology is at its peak maturity, and as time passes, it gets easier for servers to meet the Triple Play challenge.

Network capacity

In the past, networks have never really limited VDI because server technology and storage scalability have not been able to push the network hard enough. But that is changing.

Consolidating the number of virtual desktops onto fewer servers stresses networks, but networking technologies appear to be outpacing storage and server advancements. Since 10 Gb was introduced, it has become common in many organizations, and it's included with most new architectures. The cost of ports has also dropped tremendously, so I don't see networking limiting VDI, and its maturity factor is very high.

Storage arrays, server technology and network capacity have achieved a level of maturity and feature richness that help enable VDI with scalability, performance and cost viability. If you use newer technologies to build your environment, you're much more likely to see a return on your investment with VDI.

This was first published in April 2014
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