Shoring up the Virtual Desktop Architecture

Arthur Cole

The more success enterprise managers have with virtual servers and storage, the greater the temptation to extend that same technology to the desktop. And while virtual desktops and thin-client computing offer cost and efficiency benefits over traditional network architectures, there is still some nagging questions over reliability and performance.


One of the main hang-ups is whether a network of dumb terminals can provide the application access and low data latency that users are accustomed to without major upgrades to enterprise infrastructures. That depends largely on what sort of network is in place, but some upgrades can be made now with an eye toward virtual desktops in the future.


This article on TechRepublic lists some of the things to keep in mind in the storage room. Naturally, a robust I/O architecture is a must. SATA may be cheap, but at only 80 IOPS, it may not allow for much growth. A better solution would be Fibre Channel-based SAS, which delivers 180 IOPS, although at a price premium. Centralized storage also lets you boost I/O by combining more disks per RAID.


There is also a new generation of data acceleration software to consider. DataCore recently released a new version of the UpTempo system for Exchange, SQL, Virtual Server and other I/O-intensive Windows Server applications. The system is designed to remove data bottlenecks that arise under virtual desktop infrastructures and virtual server solutions through a combination of an advanced disk block cache, a virtual I/O controller, an I/O scheduler and other tools. The company says it averages a three- to-four-fold improvement in I/O performance.


Some improvements are happening on the chip level. Intel's vPro chip, for example, includes a number of embedded tools to enhance centralized control of virtual desktop environments. A function called Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) lets admins keep a handle on who is using what application, while Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d) is used to limits access to memory.


Intel is working closely with SWsoft to bring vPro technologies to the virtual server and workstation fields. The two companies recently unveiled a demo version of the Parallels system featuring support for TXT and VT-d as part of a drive to increase acceptance of the virtual desktop as a mainstream computing environment.


Will all this be enough? It's hard to say at this point. From an architectural viewpoint, there is a lot to like in the virtual desktop. Users, however, have grown quite proprietary over their own local hard drives, and it could be a tough sell to get them to trust hours' worth of work to a desktop that vanishes into thin air the moment they hit the exit button.

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