Virtual desktops offer the potential for considerable cost savings and management consolidation ... and user rebellion. More than a few virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) projects have ended up with high levels of discontent on the part of users.
Much of the unhappiness and user unrest is more than likely the result of either bad design or limited resources. VMware, a market leader in server virtualization, provides the components to take care of the architecture problem for any size deployment. Providing the right resources really boils down to cost and investing smartly.
VMware has a large installed base, and many of these customers have at least investigated the concept of VDI. The latest release of VMware's View product leverages some of the advances in vSphere to enable these same features for VDI users.
Managing individual user files such as a user's home directory, Web browser bookmarks and specific desktop settings is one of those areas that significantly impacts user satisfaction with a VDI implementation. VMware introduced View Persona Management with version 5.0 to make it easier to manage and distribute dynamic user information.
Startup time for remote users is another area that can significantly influence how well a VDI implementation is perceived to function. One of the most difficult problems to solve for this type of deployment is something called a boot storm. This typically happens when a large number of employees arrive in the morning and all boot their systems at about the same time.
VMware View has a new feature in version 5.1 called View Storage Accelerator (VSA) that directly addresses this issue. VSA allows View to access a storage feature built into vSphere 5, the ESXi host memory cache, which is also known as the Content-Based Read Cache (CBRC) or Host-Based Cache. This cache stores frequently used blocks of virtual machine disk data and makes it available without the need to fetch it from disk, greatly improving the overall speed of system.
VMware View 5.1 Installation
Installing VMware View, even in a simplified test environment, is not for the faint of heart. At the very minimum you'll need three physical or virtual Windows 2008 R2 servers with at least one functioning as a domain controller (DC). For our testing purposes we used a Dell R520 server booting from the internal SD card with ESXi 5.0 installed on it.
This box has two Intel Xeon E5-2400 processors and 96GB of memory, more than enough to meet the challenge of a test lab environment. The boot from SD card is a great feature that makes it possible to dedicate all internal disk storage for virtual machines.
The two main server pieces of a VMware View deployment are the View Connection Server and a vCenter server. You also need at least one ESXi server as a host for the virtual machines.
In a production environment you would probably want to distribute the workloads between different physical servers to spread the load and to create a reliable system that doesn't have everything running on a single machine.
VMware has an architecture planning guide as a part of their documentation set to help guide you through the process of designing your implementation to best meet your specific requirements.
There are other optional servers you can use as a part of a production VMware View deployment, including View Composer and View Transfer Server, which we did not test for this review. These provide key pieces in large installations where you need the ability to manage the creation and launch process of virtual machines and the communication between servers and storage. Figure 1 shows the administrator dashboard for our test setup.
We did run into a few bumps in our installation process, mainly around the use of certificates. VMware provides a self-signed certificate (see Figure 2) for testing purposes, but you'll need a authorized certificate for production use.
It's also important to know the fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of your VMware View server, as this information will be needed when you get to the client installation. During the server configuration you'll also need the FQDN of the vCenter server.
Options abound for VMware View clients. This includes everything from an existing PC or Mac desktop or laptop to thin client hardware and even the iPad. We were provided both an HP t610 and a DevonIT TC5Xc for testing on a thin client device. Both devices include a VMware View client out of the box. Both products work well in the VMware View environment and provide a small footprint for deployment.
VMware View includes the ability to support remote USB devices, and both of the thin clients we tested support this as well. The HP t610 includes USB 3.0 ports for connecting to high-speed disks and other peripherals that need the higher transfer speeds.
On the PC side we loaded the VMware View client on a Windows 7 laptop and were able to connect to the VMware View server with no issues. The key benefit here is that you can connect to the same desktop from any location in the world with the appropriate configuration.
VMware View 5.1 provides new functionality to improve the overall user experience. It's definitely worth a look for existing users just to get the new View Storage Accelerator and the USB enhancements. It's also a good choice for any organization evaluating a large-scale VDI project.