Is Your Organization “VDI Ready”?

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For the first time ever, Nutanix exhibited at GITEX 2015 in October and do we have a lot to share with you! GITEX, held in the Dubai World Trade Center every year, is the premier event in the Middle East for IT professionals and management to learn about market trends and solutions to their day-to-day problems. Nutanix was there in full force, with our inaugural presentation and dozens of educational tech sessions, solutions, products demos, and 1:1 expert discussions with our technical team.

We were also proud to have Citrix and CommVault in our booth talking about the value of our joint solutions, including:

Desktop and application virtualization and delivery was one of the most popular topics at the show. Nutanix and Citrix together hosted hundreds of discussions every day with IT professionals and managers on setting up virtual desktop and application infrastructure to support the explosive growth in the Middle East. One of the conversations that stood out at the show was when the person I was talking suddenly received a note from one of his colleagues in the business unit asking to become “VDI ready.” He was happy about his colleague’s proactivity, but he mentioned that there was still a lot of education needed among the business groups on the different options for desktop and application virtualization and delivery. This got us thinking – there were so many different variables IT and business units need to consider that it can become confusing. So on the long (and comfortable – thank you Emirates) plane ride back, we thought it would be worthwhile to start writing up a high level summary of the options for IT and end users for application and desktop virtualization and delivery.

Exporting applications and desktops to a remote screen isn’t an entirely new concept. From the days of UNIX/X Window System (and even before), IT has been able to deliver applications and desktops to end users. The real renaissance for app and desktop delivery started when users were able to connect to their Windows apps/desktops from any device over any network.

Independent of the vendors (we’ll get to that soon), there are several different options for IT to deliver apps and desktops to their end users. Each one is applicable for a different case (end user type and need, location and network, device, etc.). Note that we are assuming a virtualized environment for not only the app/desktop virtualization software, but also for the servers/desktops servicing the end users.

  • Hosted Shared Desktops (HSD) – multiple end users are served desktops from a single (shared) VM running a server-based operating system (1 server VM for multiple users or one to many). HSD represents the majority of the deployments supporting end users and is also often called out as Server Based Computing (SBC). The most popular option is Citrix XenApp. Microsoft Remote Desktop Services is also a popular option, especially in more modest deployments. This same strategy is used by XenApp to deliver individual applications from a single (shared) VM/server, limiting the end user to the individual application(s). VMware has supported HSD with Horizon View 6, but it is dwarfed by XenApp in terms of market share.
    There is an additional category of software that delivers application virtualization. Here the application is encapsulated from the underlying operating system on which it is executed. Virtualization in this case means encapsulation and not running on a hypervisor. This allows for different versions of the same application or mutually exclusive applications to co-exist without having to natively install them. Microsoft App-V and VMware ThinApp are options for application virtualization.
  • Hosted Virtual Desktops (HVD) or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) – each end user is served by his or her own individual desktop, typically running a desktop OS (1 desktop VM for 1 user or one to one). This strategy has also been called VDI (yes, this is the correct usage). HVDs are becoming increasingly popular in environments requiring full features desktops. Citrix XenDesktop and VMware Horizon are popular options for organizations. XenDesktop has traditionally been the choice of larger deployments and VMware Horizon of smaller deployments, but that has changed in the recent releases with both companies playing in broader spaces.
    There are additional factors associated with virtualized desktops. IT administrators can provision (1) personal/persistent desktops, or (2) pooled/non-persistent desktops. In the former case, the end users get their own desktops to run and customize. This is akin to having your own laptop, except it is running on a server in a datacenter. User files can be stored within the virtual desktop itself, but they would have to be protected individually (versus storing and protecting them on a file server).The other “pooled” scenario deals with users logging in to one of the desktops pulled from a pool of desktops. The user’s data typically isn’t stored within the virtual desktop (or if so, it is typically deleted after they log out).
    Customizations associated with the user’s desktop are maintained through the use of roaming profiles and folder redirection, using a myriad of third-party user environments, or profile management tools from Nutanix Elevate partners such as AppSense, Liquidware Labs, RES Software, and so on.
    In the last few years, another set of technologies around application layering has hit the app/desktop virtualization market called app and profile layering. These tools allow IT to create multiple virtual desktops via one golden image by choosing the appropriate layers of applications. This may even include a personalization layer so end users have their desktop settings when they log in, essentially creating personalized desktops from non-persistent pools. Vendors in this space include Liquidware Labs, Unidesk, VMware, Citrix, and others.
    More recently, Citrix has launched Citrix Workspace Cloud (CWC), bringing a cloud-based operational model to application and desktop virtualization and delivery by hosting the control plane in the cloud. Organizations can leverage CWC to run their servers and desktops, either in their own datacenters or in the cloud (public or service provider) without having to install and maintain their own delivery controllers and more. VMware announced a similar concept earlier this year called Project Enzo, but unlike CWC, it is still in the pre-release stage.
  • Streaming and local desktops – where end users run their desktops locally with OS images that are either streamed from a central location or presented locally. In certain cases, the virtualized desktop itself might run on top of another OS as a virtual machine. These types of desktops require significant bandwidth (when streamed), adequate compute on the end-user device to accommodate performance needs, and in the case of local virtualized desktops, additional software.
    Streaming is finding a niche in the connected kiosk space where network connecting and computing at the end-point isn’t an issue, but centralized management and control is needed. The local desktops are gaining traction in the PC/Mac space where there is a need to run other OS’s locally (Linux on a PC running Windows or Windows on a Mac). This is seen in small/midsize environments lacking corporate-level resources for HSD or HVD/VDI.

Citrix, Microsoft, and VMware have played key roles in the application and desktop virtualization and delivery space through innovation in the areas of protocol, virtualization software including the broker, and operating systems. Here are some of the components of the stack and the different options and vendors in each:

  • App/desktop virtualization software: this is the nerve center of any app/desktop virtualization solution. Offerings include Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop, Microsoft RDSH, and VMware Horizon View. Citrix and VMware also deliver functionality in their respective stacks to help with provisioning of desktops, leveraging golden images, and cloning. There are other players in this space, but Citrix, VMware, and Microsoft are the share leaders.
  • Protocols: this is what is used to stream desktops from the server to the end-user device and capture end-user input. Protocols now also cover areas such as printer, USB for end-user peripherals, and so on. Citrix has been the industry pioneer with its ICA and more recently HDX technologies, Microsoft has the pervasive RDP and RemoteFX technologies, and VMware has PCoIP, which is licensed from Teradici and also supports RDP.
  • Client: this is the application running on the end-user device (desktop/laptop/tablet etc.) used to provide access to the desktop/application. Citrix has Receiver, Microsoft has RDC client, and VMware has View Client. End-users can now also use HTML5 compatible web browsers to access their desktops and applications.
  • Networking and Security: this is a critical, but often overlooked component of the overall app/desktop virtualization and delivery stack with features like load balancing, encryption and network acceleration, and firewalls. This application(s) enables secure and highly available remote access to virtualized desktops and applications. Major players in this space include Citrix NetScaler and F5 Big-IP.
  • Operating Systems: Microsoft Windows Server and Desktop OS’s, and various flavors of Linux can now be virtualized and delivered to end-users.
  • Server hypervisors: A variety of hypervisors can be used with the app/desktop virtualization software to run the end-user desktops including VMware vSphere, Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 (with Hyper-V) and our very own Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV). Nutanix AHV is now a fully supported option for Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop. Read more about this here.

There is also the topic of compute and storage infrastructure. If you haven’t already, it is definitely worthwhile to research the advantages of hyperconverged infrastructure for app and desktop virtualization, especially ones that come from using a linearly scaling web-scale architecture. The specific areas to consider in your evaluation include time to deploy, ability to handle multiple workloads including noisy neighbors in a virtualization cluster, user density including user/rack unit, ease of management, scalability, and most importantly ability to deliver consistent user experience from pilot to production and beyond.

Nutanix has long been the leader in a highly competitive infrastructure market for app/desktop virtualization with 1000’s of very successful deployments at large scale. In addition to helping customers run their mission critical workloads, Nutanix can help deliver one of the industry’s fastest time to production and best returns on investment for VDI with excellent user experience when accessing their applications and virtual desktops.

We have covered a lot in this blog on the different options available to IT organizations to deliver applications and desktops to their end users. There are numerous vendors mentioned here (some are Nutanix Elevate partners) that can help you simplify the process of app/desktop delivery. Do your research to evaluate what tools can help solve your organization’s needs.

The app and desktop virtualization and delivery space has come a long way from where it used to be even five years ago, so don’t hesitate to ask for help to make sense of it all. Send us a note at or DM us on twitter @nutanix if you are interested in learning more about end-user computing options and how you can efficiently deploy application and desktop virtualization from pilot to production with minimal to no risk.