The growing importance and network impact of VDI

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

If virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) was a racehorse, it would be one to back. Gartner predicts that hosted virtual desktop (HVD) deployments will reach 15% of professional desktop users by 2014 and Visiongain estimates that the value of the global cloud-based VDI market will reach $11 billion in 2012. But VDI places significant strain upon the WAN due to the amount of data being transferred between the server and the desktop. If the network is unable to provide adequate performance to applications, they are likely to perform poorly, or fail completely.

Before we examine that, though, let's look at why VDI become so popular.

VDI is the practice of hosting a desktop operating system within a virtual machine running on a centralized server. Network administrators no longer have to deal with each end-user computer on an individual basis, but can instead control them en masse via the central server. This greatly limits the risks associated with the end-user environment, which is where many IT issues typically originate.

[ ANALYSIS: How the cloud changes the virtual desktop landscape ]

VDI can save IT departments enormous amounts of time and money. In the past, software upgrades and application installations would have been arduous, with each user's machine having to be upgraded individually. VDI allows for mass rollouts and software upgrades, removing the need to continually upgrade each CPU with the latest version of Windows or other "proprietary" software. The issue of software compatibility (with single-user software, for example) is also negated.

A major advantage of VDI is the ability to log in to the desktop remotely, on any computer. Employees can access corporate documents and email from their own personal device, anywhere. And because all sensitive data is stored on the corporate data center, (and not on the user's PC), the security risks associated with theft or loss are reduced.

The evidence suggests that businesses will increasingly turn to VDI over the next few years, but they need to consider the impact on the wider IT environment.

Networks are a key point to consider. Despite specialized transport protocols between remote client desktops and centralized virtual servers, VDI can be adversely affected due to limited bandwidth and competition with other applications like files transfer, unified communications and social media, resulting in users experiencing problems like delayed mouse movements and keystrokes. When it comes to productivity, users demand a seamless desktop experience. [Also see: "Prepping the network for VDI"]

So how can these issues be prevented? The solution lies in being able to classify and manage each flow of traffic over the network to serve the business-critical applications and align performance to the needs of the business user. In addition, businesses need to have a transparent overview of exactly which applications are running over the net and how much resource they each consume.

Available network offerings like MPLS or the public Internet do not have the embedded technologies with the granularity and cleverness to provide such features. This is why enterprises deploying VDI are looking for tools offering additional benefits. The first important capability is the ability to recognize and classify each user flow (virtualized or not) and then control each flow accordingly. This control typically consists of guaranteeing a minimum delay to the low-bandwidth/time-sensitive VDI flows (e.g., mouse/keyboard) while managing the available bandwidth between all the other flows in the most efficient manner possible. Finally, monitoring and reporting the application traffic (volume, performance) over the network is necessary for IT managers to plan, size and finally govern VDI over their network.

VDI has numerous benefits for businesses that choose to utilize it. But in order to maximize its efficiency, companies need the right tools. With multiple apps sharing the virtualized environment, there needs to be a way of managing the competition between them as well as between the non-virtualized applications, and prioritizing the ones which are considered more important. Moreover, it's of primary importance that the flow of virtualized traffic can be viewed in a transparent way, and that the business-critical, virtualized applications are therefore also highly visible.

Implementing a virtualized environment without consideration for its impact on the network is the equivalent of galloping a horse bareback; an uncomfortable experience, with a very real likelihood of there being a fall.

Ipanema provides enterprises with a direct connection between application performance and their business requirements. With Ipanema Technologies, enterprises automatically understand which applications use the network and deliver guaranteed performance to each user. Enterprises can support their strategic IT transformations (like cloud computing, virtual desktop infrastructure and unified communications) and control Internet growth while reducing their IT expenses.

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