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Prepping the network for VDI

By Harpreet Chadha, VP of Product Line Management, Extreme Networks, special to Network World
January 23, 2012 02:46 PM ET

Network World - 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.

From the cloud to the new wireless edge, conversations in the IT department are revolving around what the network will do next. One technology that has managed to escape much of the spotlight -- while still transforming IT --- is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Although virtualization may have started out as a technology driven by server consolidation, today's evolving network takes virtualization well beyond servers to a means of centralizing IT itself. The evolution starts with desktop PCs and the new class of wireless computing devices proliferating throughout the enterprise, including smartphones and tablet PCs.

2012 OUTLOOK: Virtual desktops are all the rage

VDI is disruptive in that it has the potential to become the new computing norm, and is cropping up in progressive IT departments at colleges, law firms and retail establishments. The business and technical efficiencies involved with VDI are relatively simple and straightforward in exchange for the significant improvements VDI can deliver to network manageability, security and energy efficiency.

According to a June 2011 study from ABI Research, the worldwide market for hosted virtual desktops is expected to grow to nearly $5 billion in 2016. Large enterprises are drawn to VDI because of its ability to reduce desktop support and management costs, as well as the lower overall energy requirements of virtual desktops. VDI also offers business continuity and disaster recovery benefits as well as a means to secure data in the data center, which is paramount when meeting compliance and security regulations.

Before an enterprise undertakes the transformation to VDI, data center managers must understand the impact it may have on the network from a performance standpoint, while maintaining key criteria such as cost savings, delivery of multiple converged services, and power efficiency.

While VDI is partially driven by using lighter-weight devices such as smartphones and tablet devices (rather than bulky desktops), the network plays a key role in further reducing energy consumption through the centralization of resources and by bringing much higher speeds at the port level. So, instead of deploying multiple tiers and distributed Gigabit Ethernet LANs, suddenly the horsepower is consolidated into a single core layer providing the bandwidth necessary for all VDI connections. This allows much higher-density 10 Gigabit Ethernet port modules on chassis type switches to easily collapse all traffic into just a few network switches. In the end, VDI is highly efficient, more powerful and easier for IT to manage.

Once considerations for bandwidth and system centralization have been addressed, the issue of carrying converged media (mixed voice, video and data) comes to the fore.

The network not only has to be equipped with 10 Gigabit and Gigabit to the edge, it also needs the intelligence, quality of service (QoS) and ultra-low latency switching to seamlessly deliver voice and video traffic to users based on predetermined priorities. Just like traditional networks, the VDI network backbone still must handle convergence flawlessly so all users have a consistent, predictable experience. Critical activities such as IP phone calls and collaboration, e-learning activities using IP video, customer call centers, to name but a few, all depend on the network for a seamless, quality experience.

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