Virtual desktop infrastructures and the private cloud


Virtual desktop infrastructures and the private cloud

When discussing virtual desktops with customers and consultants, I often get asked, "What about hosting my desktop infrastructure in the cloud?"

This question can lead to an entire conversation about how enterprises need to consider many factors before using a desktop in the cloud, but the cloud computing most people are referring to is the public cloud, also known as the hosted cloud model. However, the private cloud is where many organisations will see virtual desktop infrastructure

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becoming more prevalent.

Although the private cloud vs. public cloud debate continues, for the sake of this article, the private cloud is where an organisation maintains a standardised stack of technology that can be managed from an operational perspective. For example, VMware's vBlock, Cisco EMC or ICI's vCube are considered private cloud enablers. The biggest concepts to grasp regarding virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or Desktop as a Service (DaaS) are standardisation and operationalisation.

When a private cloud is created for DaaS, many technologies and workflows need to be standardised, including:

  • Virtualisation: Citrix, VMware and Microsoft are the three largest vendors that have a stake in the hypervisor for virtual desktops today.

  • Virtual desktop (connection broker): The connection broker needs to be robust and scalable to handle an environment of any size.

  • Storage: Storage can be the largest bottleneck in a VDI deployment, especially when it comes to standardising for a private cloud. It needs to be a robust, high-performing, scalable architecture to allow for multiple uses, including Windows file sharing, iSCSI or Fibre Channel logical unit numbers, template management, snapshots and much more.

  • Server: The server often doesn't receive as much thought as it should. This is because the discussion around scaling up vs. scaling out often determines the type of server to build the cloud upon. Blade servers are making a huge push because density is a major driver for VDI, and blades can allow for that density in a smaller footprint.

  • Network: Networking is -- and always will be --- the glue that makes the technology stack function. Recent advances have made 10 GB Ethernet/iSCSI an affordable solution, enabling the private cloud to be a more cost effective model while allowing for the consolidation of the networking components.

  • Monitoring: Until recently, desktop monitoring wasn't a real concept, and therefore it is often forgotten about. But with the introduction of virtual desktops and organisations standardising their processes, being proactive with desktops allows for simplification of the help desk portion of the service desk.

Developing a virtual desktop infrastructure in a private cloud can be complex because of all the pieces that build the underlying stack. And once this technology stack is built, the real work begins. IT administrators must create operational procedures that enable the private cloud to function as a service offering and not be managed as a one-off situation every time. This situation will present opportunities for the major VDI vendors to differentiate themselves. To create a true DaaS offering, a VDI environment needs a solid management framework, and the battle for this has just begun.

Brad Maltz is CTO of International Computerware, a national consulting firm focused on virtualisation and storage technologies. He holds certifications from VMware and EMC for many technologies. Maltz can be reached at for any questions, comments or suggestions.

This was first published in April 2010

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