Gregor Waddell (Global) - Why VDI is Best Served to Students with Flash

At Anglia Ruskin University, we were posed with the challenge of pleasing a campus of college students and their demanding PC needs, in a building hosting the new IT open access area. It assumed no need for cooling, presenting a heat issue for traditional PCs, and our media-rich applications added to power consumption and also meant that thin client technologies weren't an option.

We wanted a modern and attractive desktop for our student and staff community that could take advantage of recent technology innovations to improve their experience. The need to reduce power consumption, while at the same time creating an excellent user experience for over 32,000 students, were central motivators in Anglia Ruskin University's decision to deploy a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution using all Flash Memory Arrays.

The Implementation
Encouraged by the advantages seen from the virtualization of our server infrastructure (VMWare vSphere), it was natural to consider Desktop Virtualization and related thin client technologies as a solution to the problem.

Storage performance considerations were a key factor in designing our solution. VDI relies heavily on storage performance and our existing traditional spinning disk arrays were not up to the task. The virtual machines needed 80-100 IOPS per desktop in our more demanding environments, of which most were writes. After considering several options we chose the Violin Memory 3000 Series Flash Memory Array.

We successfully launched the new Hosted Virtual Desktop into the new IT open access area and library - initially providing capacity for around 400 concurrent desktops. This was followed by a roll-out of the desktop to the rest of the University's student IT open access areas supporting approximately 1,000 concurrent users. The new desktop is also now being rolled out to our staff - with most of our specific software such as Tribal SITS being delivered using application virtualization.

The Results

  • Provided a nearly indistinguishable user experience to that of traditional PCs
  • Reduced power consumption with a 30-40% saving, per user, when compared to traditional PCs and monitors
  • Reduced boot times from an average of 8-9 minutes to between 30-60 seconds
  • Calculated that the capital expenditure would be similar to that of a PC deployment at numbers greater than around 500 concurrent users with a saving, year on year, in support and management costs
  • Significantly increased flexibility to deploy new software easily

Lessons Learned
VDI has come of age, and we consider Hosted Virtual Desktop, and the other supporting technologies, to be a viable and realistic alternative to traditional PCs whilst providing a range of additional benefits. However, there are lessons to be learned from the implementation of VDI:

  • Your end user experience must be identical or better than that provided by a traditional PC, to meet user expectations.
  • Storage performance is critical in a VDI environment and exceeded what we could sensibly provide from our other Storage Area Network.
  • Hosted Virtual Desktops may require a new approach to support and management to get the best out of the environment. We restructured our department to provide a small dedicated Hosted Virtual Desktop team with combined desktop, server and storage skills.
  • Some applications are better suited to a VDI environment than others, as many were originally built expecting to sit on a traditional fat PC - Photoshop is one example. Prioritize what applications you need to virtualize. We do expect to see more software houses build their applications to suit VDI in the future, but there will always be exceptions that need a physical PC environment.
  • Think about hosting your VDI in a separate environment. As VDI is so different, the volume and scale is so intense, we wouldn't suggest sharing it with any other application that may prevent the I/O that you need for the VDI to work seamlessly.
  • Minimize complexity in standard images, whether they are virtual or traditional, by introducing application virtualization as the default means to deploy software across your IT estate.
  • Technology is changing at a radical speed so to ensure that you are providing your users with the most elevated performance, you should invest in an infrastructure that will supersede your user's experience expectations.

By Gregor Waddell, Assistant IT Director, Anglia Ruskin University



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