Local Storage and Desktop Virtualization

Why are so many people unwilling to challenge traditional buying patterns and instead use critical thinking to solve problems?

First a joke…but one that I see all to often and not just related to this discussion but in all areas of life.

Start with 5 monkeys locked in a cage.

Hang a banana from the roof on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long the monkeys will go to the stairs and start to climb toward the banana.

As soon as the first monkey touches the stairs, hose the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while another monkey makes an attempt with the same result. All the others are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and goes to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not?

Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here. And that, my friends, is how company policy begins.

This survey that Chris Wolf (Gartner Analyst) did completely blew me away.

I’m shocked at the number of people when asked about their Virtual Desktop Storage Preferences answered that they would use Enterprise Storage array features (EMC, HDS, HP, NetApp). I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked after spending the last few years working on desktop virtualization solutions but it shows how little people still understand about the workload, requirements, and technologies that desktop virtualization has. It is these same people that are probably also shocked when they look at the costs of deploying a hosted virtual desktop solution.

How do you think Exxon would answer if asked whether you should use an electric car vs one with a combustion engine? That they would reply anything other than a combustion engine would be ludicrous (well until they own the electricity too). So it’s no surprise that when you ask a shared storage vendor what storage architecture they suggest what would be best for you is using their shared storage solution. Recognize that the answer they are giving you is because that is what they sell but may not be what is in the best interests of your company of storage solution for desktop virtualization. There is certainly a place for shared storage solutions in Desktop Virtualization, but it really shouldn’t be the defacto standard.

In my experience the solution that most IT departments are trying to move towards is one that involves a non-persistent virtual desktop, I’m a fan of persistent desktops too, but that in my experience has rarely been the first use case companies focus on to maximize their return in desktop virtualization technology investments.

A non-persistent virtual desktop means that changes to the operating system including OS updates, configuration changes, and applications installations are not retained. After a user logs off, the virtual desktop is refreshed and reverted back to its gold image state. Personalization of the operating system or applications that are desired are stored in the user profile can be maintained separately from the virtual desktop and therefore persisted (on shared storage). What a non-persistent virtual desktop really means for most companies is that if a user installs and application (provided they have the rights to do so) that application will not be persisted. In many cases this is the desired functionality that companies are seeking in deploying a hosted virtual desktop solution.

So what then are you getting by adding a shared storage solution? If the server the desktop is hosted on fails the session is lost and the user has to reconnect regardless of the storage architecture. If the storage on the server the desktop is hosted on fails the session is lost and the user reconnects…again regardless of the storage architecture. So why then are so many companies using shared storage for the VDI environment? I honestly don’t know. My best educated guess is because that’s just what they think IT departments should do.

So where are the gaps when using local disk for desktop virtualization? Since we are using local storage technologies such as live migration/vMotion/XenMotion can’t be used (OK, so shared nothing migrations exist, but you probably won’t use this in production…although if you have 10Gb and local SSD then this might be an option) and therefore load distribution by migrating VM’s to balance load across hypervisor hosts can’t be done. Add to that, the broker does not take in to account the load on the host hypervisor(s) when making placement decisions for a user that needs a non-persistent virtual desktop. Since the virtual machines are using local hard disks there isn’t any ability for the underlying hypervisor cluster to migrate virtual machines from one host to another. So the potential exists that you could be brokering users to a virtual desktop on a host that is saturated while other hosts in the cluster have available capacity.

When Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View make brokering decisions why is their no calculation of host utilization (hypervisor) used in that decision? We need a smarter broker in order to free ourselves of shared disk and therefore the bonds of 40% of our desktop virtualization project going to storage manufacturers. Dell/Quest vWorkspace does this, they call this Connection Time Load Balancing. From their admin guide: Connection-time load balancing distributes user connection requests to a managed computer on the least busy Hyper-V hypervisor. Kudo’s guys!

So there, something to think about, don’t do what everyone else does just because everyone else is doing it. I’m a firm believer that most people are stupid, the last thing I want to do is blindly make the same decision that person did. Shared storage might have a place in your desktop virtualization deployment, but it should not be assumed. Don’t be a f*cking monkey. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Local Storage and Desktop Virtualization

  1. In case of usage local ssd, the performance “capacity” of each server is predefined and there are the fixed number of VMs. Thus we can assume that the performance of fully loaded VMs will not significantly saturated, don’t we?

  2. This! This is my default starting position when evaluating the storage solution for a new XenDesktop deployment, and I only bring in shared storage if there is a specific need.

  3. I think it’s much simpler than that, it’s not a default option and it takes extra work. So, either lazy or afraid of stairs. The exception to your argument would be VDI in a box. Can be share storage, but the default is internal. Neither scary or extra work to save some dough.

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