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What hyper-converged appliances can -- and can't -- do for VDI

Hyper-converged infrastructure and VDI are joined at the hip. VMware vExpert Alastair Cooke explains the link to help VDI shops determine whether HCI is a good fit for their company.

Hyper-converged infrastructure is revolutionizing data centers, and one of its most popular use cases is to increase the efficiency and scalability of VDI.

Deploying hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is a big investment, and the current products on the market are only for medium to large organizations. But with the right setup, companies can get the benefits of streamlined data centers and more stable endpoint performance. Hyper-converged appliances combine compute, storage, networking and virtualization resources into one system.

VDI shops should do their own investigation into the rewards and drawbacks of HCI, as well as the products that are out there, said desktop and server virtualization expert Alastair Cooke. Here, Cooke discusses the differences between hyper-converged appliances and legacy infrastructures, the Nutanix vs. SimpliVity vendor debate -- along with other hyper-converged infrastructure vendors -- and which VDI shops are good fits for HCI.

What are the biggest differences VDI administrators will see when transitioning to hyper-converged systems?

Alastair Cooke: They'll see a much simpler infrastructure. They'll have far fewer concerns about the numbers of virtual machines on LANs (local area networks), because hyper-converged doesn't have the same storage constraints around data stores on LANs that legacy infrastructure does.

The way hyper-converged scales, it's by adding all of the resources -- so compute, CPU memory, disk capacity and performance and network throughput are all added every time you add an additional node. That means when you grow your [VDI] environment, you don't hit the same sort of bottlenecks that you do with a conventional infrastructure, where maybe your storage array runs out of enough IOPS because you bought enough compute capacity for more desktops.

Which types of VDI environments shouldn't use hyper-converged appliances?

Cooke: The key thing with hyper-converged is that the smallest scale most of the solutions go to is three hypervisor hosts, so that translates to several hundred desktops as a minimum. They all scale up to building blocks that are as large as a sensible building block for VDI -- 16 to 32 nodes -- but none of them scale particularly below that for very small-scale environments.

Alastair CookeAlastair Cooke

The other constraint for hyper-converged is that most of the solutions don't support adding a lot of GPU cards. Some of them don't support adding any GPU cards to the nodes that are running the desktop virtual machines, so if 3D, accelerated graphics is important, then it's going to restrict your choices around hyper-converged.

How popular will hyper-converged systems become?

It will become one of the most common ways of deploying VDI. It just matches up so well with the use case, and that's why we've seen the hyper-converged [infrastructure] vendors leading with VDI. The scaling and the capacity of all of the resources at the same time is very beneficial as long as you get the balance of those resources right.

How do Nutanix vs. SimpliVity HCI products compare?

Cooke: Nutanix [has] some really good stories around scaling -- clients who had a single data center who have hundreds of Nutanix nodes. They have a really good story about using multiple hypervisors. We haven't seen a lot of VDI being run on a hypervisor other than vSphere or maybe Hyper-V, but when we start seeing VDI products that support KVM hypervisors and take the licensing cost of the hypervisor out, we may see some changes in the market.

HCI will become one of the most common ways of deploying VDI.
Alastair Cooke

SimpliVity's story is all around their data efficiency. Historically, they weren't very strong in VDI simply because being data efficient with VDI is not so much of an issue in the last couple years. But SimpliVity last year in 2015 released some fairly outstanding consolidation numbers and Login VSI benchmark data around how many desktops you could run on each of their nodes. That could well change the economics of VDI and bring VDI on the SimpliVity platform to a cost point that's better than other vendors.

What are the other hyper-converged infrastructure vendors IT should consider?

Cooke: It's interesting that VMware's VSAN hasn't been positioned as hyper-converged when it is as hyper-converged as some of the other products. It does seem to have been a little bit of a premature release that didn't have all of the data integrity features … but [version] 6.2 brings those.

Be mindful of things coming from left field. We've just seen Cisco come to market with a hyper-converged product that's licensed from Springpath. There's some really interesting stuff out of the Atlantis [Computing] hyper-converged architecture that then comes to market through hardware vendors like HP (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) and SuperMicro. One of the key things with those is it's an all-flash configuration, and all-flash is generally good … to run VDI on.

If you're in the market for [HCI] and you have time to consider multiple vendors, it's probably worth casting your net a little wider than just the two companies (Nutanix and SimpliVity) that have a majority of the market at the moment.

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