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How to Simplify Digital Workspace Server & Storage Resource Management

By Kevin Bacon, Ana Ruiz (Citrix), John Williamson
| min

Welcome to the first installment of the “Seven Ways to Simplify Your Digital Workspace Deployment in 2021” blog series! A Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops on Nutanix Hybrid Cloud  solution delivers excellent user experience, improved productivity, greater business agility, lower risk, and higher ROI. Getting started can be daunting, so we’re going to walk you through the key elements of building a performant and efficient solution. We’ll describe the key features of those elements and share tips for what to look for, and what to avoid, when building your own. 

Virtualizing apps and desktops requires highly performant, scalable, and easy-to-manage servers and storage. When desktop virtualization emerged, organizations relied on silos of blade servers and SAN storage appliances, with discrete physical networks for management, storage, and user traffic. While this “three-tier architecture” got the job done, there were a number of pitfalls that often stalled virtual app and desktop projects.

Three-tier architectures are not designed for cloud

Customers found SANs to be expensive purchases that drove up the initial cost of virtualization. SANs were originally designed for server workloads and were not tuned for desktop workloads,  with user profiles, antivirus scanning, boot and login storms, and other desktop-specific events. The architecture of SAN controllers and SAN fabrics often meant the overall throughput was inherently capped by the capability of the controllers and switches purchased up front. Over time, as more users were added, performance tended to decrease.

Blade servers were also expensive and difficult to support, requiring expensive chassis with integrated switches. Updating BIOS and other system firmware became more complex with these new systems and patching these physical systems usually required hours-long maintenance windows where the systems could be taken offline.

As a tacit acknowledgement of the complexity and difficulty of setting up and supporting these systems, vendors started teaming up to offer “converged” architecture. But these alliances didn’t alter the fundamental architectural flaws of these solutions, and the challenges of three-tier architecture largely remained.

Enter HCI: simpler, faster, and more cost efficient

About a decade ago, several vendors started offering hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). Led by Nutanix, this movement dispensed with the idea of blade servers and discrete storage networks and appliances, instead offering traditional rack-mount servers with virtualized storage controllers. It continued the theme of a software-defined datacenter, assuming there was nothing about a SAN controller that required it to be physical. Like almost all other datacenter workloads, it could be virtualized with demonstrable benefits. Nutanix took this a step further by offering a truly scale-out architecture with “web scale” principles. If the big internet players could have thousands of servers working together, why couldn’t other businesses?

One of the great benefits for virtualizing desktops on Nutanix is data locality. Windows workloads were built with locally attached drives and perform best with low disk latency. Rather than reading and writing data across a network, Nutanix offers lower latency from direct-attached SSDs. Reading from a PCI controller is an order of magnitude faster than reading from a network. This data locality performance optimization continues to set Nutanix apart from all of the other storage offerings.

Nutanix Shadow Clones improve end user experience

In addition to data locality, Nutanix invented Shadow Clones specifically for linked clone imaging technology. This means that non-persistent desktops, especially with Citrix Machine Creation Services, can clone and boot much faster than other systems. Booting hundreds of desktops could happen 50 percent faster with this feature. Without getting too technical, Shadow Clones cache the data each desktop frequently accesses on the SSD drives of every server that hosts virtual desktops. And it automatically enables itself when it detects machines built using linked clones, like with Citrix Machine Creation Services.

Portable subscriptions provide freedom of choice

While Nutanix originally offered a turnkey appliance, today Nutanix is licensed as a portable subscription that can be used with all leading server vendors. With Nutanix Clusters, you can use this same portable subscription on bare metal servers in popular public clouds. Nutanix frees you from both server and cloud lock in.

Linear and cost efficient scaling

As many virtual desktop environments scale out with dozens or hundreds of users at a time, it’s important to be able to scale capacity linearly and cost effectively. Nutanix further enables this with an imaging tool called Foundation. Foundation enables clusters from one server to dozens of servers to be installed within a couple hours in a fully automated fashion. Once a cluster is up and running, servers can be added in increments of as little as one at a time. You can add or remove servers from a cluster with no downtime and conduct maintenance during normal working hours.

Automated Life Cycle Management: fast, easy, always-on

Finally, Life Cycle Management is the latest Nutanix capability for managing hordes of physical servers. This technology automatically scans all hardware and firmware that Nutanix software is running on for new versions of BIOS, firmware, and software. Life Cycle Management checks for compatibility and ensures components are updated in the correct order. Like all Nutanix maintenance tasks, an administrator kicks off the process, but the system automates the bulk of activity, ensuring virtual desktop live migration if a component needs to restart. This accelerates performance and patching, with no impact on end users and removing the requirement for IT staff to work late nights, holidays, and weekends.

Be on the lookout for the next installment, “How to Simplify the Citrix Virtual Application and Desktop Control Plane.”

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