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VDI Series Part 1: Moving Beyond the POC

Gartner released a report in mid 2010 that they expected 50 million VDI desktops by 2013. Then there are the recent newsflashes surrounding VDI : Citrix buys Kaviza and RingCube. AppSense gets a 70 million round of funding from Goldman Sachs.  The VMware View vs Citrix XenDeskop war rages on with new product releases this month.  These outward signs point to a huge market, yet there is also a somewhat hidden undercurrent of chatter about how real VDI is, that is, how many customers are truly deploying VDI beyond a 50 seat POC.

Here at Nutanix, ironically, the director of product management comes from Citrix and the director of product marketing comes from VMware.  We (Partha Ramachandran from Citrix and Tiffany To from VMware) have a fun time making jabs at each other about Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View, but at the end of the day, we realize the real VDI roadblock is not about which user experience protocol is better, but rather, how can VDI be made radically simpler and cost-effective so it can move beyond the POC chasm of purchased but undeployed licenses.

At Nutanix, we did not aim to build a VDI product, but focused on the broader use case of enterprise virtualization, but it’s clear that as early customers such as global law firms have been looking at our solution, there is a sweet spot with VDI.  All of us who pay attention to VDI know what a tough critic Brian Madden can be, so we invited him to our offices a few weeks ago to take a look and drill into the architecture.   After that visit, he remarked that we might have “just created the ultimate server/storage big data combo hardware for VDI.”  See his full take  @ http://tinyurl.com/44j8hy8.

Let’s look at the first part of the roadblock – cost.  Why is VDI so expensive in the first place? Storage accounts for at least 60% of CAPEX for a VDI deployment. The upfront, as well as ongoing, storage costs of growing data and complex network storage management have been the key reasons why many mid to large sized VDI deployments have not moved beyond the POC stage.    Neither Citrix nor VMware are storage companies, and their expertise is in the “upper half” of VDI – desktop brokering, user profiles, image management, etc.  Both companies have tried their best to alleviate the storage pain for the SMB market. Citrix is working on integrating their Kaviza purchase into a simple VDI offering for SMBs. VMware will do something similar with their recent announcements around VSA and vSphere 5. 

But these SMB solutions will only go so far.  Technologies like VMware View Composer seek to provide storage relief for larger deployments, but the caveat is that the complexity level goes up in configuring and managing a gold image and personas appropriately.

The reality is that when customers hit a pivot point of 250-300 desktops, the only way to make a VDI deployment work is to buy an expensive SAN. When that happens, the resulting TCO on a virtual desktop may end up looking greater than the cost of a good laptop, leaving CIOs scratching their heads on whether the benefits of VDI outweigh the costs.  Going from cheap desktop storage to SAN storage is a painful realization that requires significant business case justification. TCO presentations about VDI often focus on the long term OPEX benefits of simpler desktop management (Tiffany confesses to building many of these presos), but those benefits can never be fully realized if the VDI infrastructure itself can’t be managed at scale.

Well, Nutanix believes it’s time to get back to the basics and rethink what virtualized infrastructure should look like in the first place.

Nutanix Complete Cluster is built from the ground up to be a truly converged, scale out solution for enterprise virtualization. Each Nutanix 2U building block can support 200 virtual desktops (this number is being pushed as we speak – come check out our booth #212 at vmworld to see a loginvsi demo). Our scale-out architecture means that you can add blocks as you go, unlike with vBlocks or FlexPods, and still manage a single system without having to reconfigure or tune it.  That protects the customer’s investment and allows them to buy what they need when they need it.  Oh yeah, and there’s no SAN. The Nutanix Complete Cluster delivers a self-contained compute, storage, and networking infrastructure solution to run your datacenter the way Google, Facebook and other cloud-generation companies do. All this with the high-end data management features you’ve come to expect from a million dollar SAN.

Great! So, Nutanix is going to save customers a lot of money on VDI, but what about the performance?  What about boot storms?  How does Nutanix leverage those Fusion-io ioMemory cards for VDI? Stay tuned for part 2 in our VDI series.

Partha & Tiffany