VDI In The Sky: Encore

A while back my colleague ThinGuy posted a blog entry called "VDI In The Sky" showing photos of the Oracle Virtual Desktop Client on a Netbook accessing a Oracle VDI hosted desktop from 30,000 feet.   On a trip I took to San Francisco I could not help wanting to try it myself.  I often talk of the benefits of the Sun Ray Appliance Link Protocol to customers.  With wifi service available on many airlines and at reasonable prices for business travel I was in luck.   

As a side note, when I am discussing with customers the concept of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure I always get the "What about when I am not connected like on a airplane?" question.  I ask you to look at the evolution of being connected (or "Online") and the pace of the adoption of network technologies making network access ubiquitous.   It is amazing how quickly network access and network speeds have evolved.   So I ask in return, "When are you not connected?  if you are not, do you really have much to do?"

So there I was on a plane in premium economy with a bit more leg room, wifi internet access, a Cisco VPN connection to my lab,  and the Oracle Virtual Desktop Client installed.  It was too hard to resist trying what Thinguy showed, so I fired up my mobile phone video recorder and gave it a try (Sorry for the shaky hand but typing and recording at the same time was a challenge)

I couple of things I want to point out as you watch this:

  1. The internet access was from 30,000 feet traveling at several hundred miles per hour (A incredible networking feat on it's own)
  2. The greatest challenge to using internet access on a airplane is "Latency" that impacts the user experience by having to wait for those emails messages to load,  files to download / upload,  or in this case for the screen to draw a VDI hosted desktop.   Latency is measured in milliseconds (ms) and on your home broadband network will likely be in area of 100ms to 150ms depending upon what you use.  Over airplane wifi connections you will see in this video it is 300ms to 400ms latency and it is not consistent, it changes up and down frequently thanks to the plane's airspeed.
  3. In order to access my VDI hosted desktop securely I needed to create a VPN tunnel so now I have added IPsec encryption to the 300-400ms latency. 

My goal was to answer the question "Would accessing a Virtual Deskop from 30,000ft at high latency be usable or just a gimmick?" I will certainly say that playing youtube videos over this connection is entirely unreasonable so I did not even try.   I set out to access a variety of desktops - Windows 7,  Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, and Ubuntu Linux all accessed by Oracle VDI software.  My focus was on the following tests:

  • Responsiveness of the Oracle VDI login and desktop selection screens
  • Initial desktop screen draw time and pix-elation  from network delay.  Initial screen draws are typically the largest.
  • Mouse click response time such as selecting windows manager functions and having them respond reasonably.  Click delays will drive even the most patient user crazy.
  • Determine the impact of accessing different desktop back-ends such as Windows Server, Windows 7, and Ubuntu Linux

I could have spent hours on different tasks but I chose these basic ones for the sake of time and so I have a reason to test other things on another trip ;-)

Some conclusions for me:

  • The usability for displaying a desktop is very good for a variety of desktops with Oracle VDI using the Sun Ray Appliance Link Protocol
  • I could certainly do more over this connection with remotely displaying a VDI desktop and applications.  Data intensive tasks are better left in the data center such as:
    • Trying to load a large inbox to a mail client and open attachments. When opening mail using a VDI hosted desktop that one big attachment can be opened in a few seconds rather than loading it into a mail client over the airplane wifi at high latency
    • Many applications are accessed by a browser and are very "chatty",  meaning they frequent transactions back and forth and will suffer by high latency on a WAN. These applications will perform well in a VDI model since the browser and the applications are on a data-center backbone and not on a WAN.
    • Trying to access large files from a home directory.  Users can load any size file needed into OpenOffice that resides a VDI hosted desktop and not worry about the data transfer time to a laptop
    • I prepared a presentation during travel time and never had to close then re-open the file.  Same thing goes for email messages I was editing.
So what is the big deal?  Why VDI in the sky anyway?
  1. Corporate and customer data are completely secure in the data-center. (As long as it is kept there)
  2. Desktops OS and personal data are backed up transparently - Less time spent as a desktop administrator and more time for what users are paid to do.  (Example: My corp laptop is old and makes unnerving noises at times so I am worried)
  3. With Oracle VDI users can have a variety of desktops and not be limited by the hardware they carry - Windows XP, Windows 7, Ubuntu Desktop, Oracle Enterprise Linux, Solaris, and more.
  4. Tasks can be started then disconnect and reconnect from them as needed without having to restart from the beginning
  • Think editing a OpenOffice presentation, document, spreadsheet and not having to worry if your laptop battery dies losing critical changes
  • The ability to access any size file a user needs whether it is in email, on a home directory, or on a company shared folder and not be impacted by limitations of the network being using at the time
  • A developer can load source files into development tools and run tests or compiles then disconnecting while traveling and  knowing they keep on running as needed

There are many more examples that I will save for a forth coming blog series called "Why VDI"

 Thanks for reading

Comments:

Funny thing about working on the airplane is that unless you are in Economy Plus or First Class, there is a lack of space that makes it impractical for most people to be able to use a work laptop. This is a really good example of where a tablet may be quite useful. A tablet connected to a plane's WiFi accessing a corporate VDI image may enable someone being able to work on a flight.

Michael Fox
Author, DeMystifying the Virtual Desktop

Posted by Michael Fox on January 11, 2011 at 11:31 PM PST #

Judging by how the screen was drawing, I'd say you had the MTU wrong. The one downside of the OVDC is it doesn't automatically adjust the MTU like a physical Sun Ray client can. I think you might find that video would perform very well using a vRDP given the proper MTU.

See: http://blogs.sun.com/ThinkThin/entry/ovdc_and_mtu

Posted by ThinGuy on January 12, 2011 at 02:04 PM PST #

Jeff,
First, let me apologize for assuming the MTU wasn't set. I know you better. And since I do you know, I should have realized the most important thing you wrote that would factor about performance was in your second sentence.

EWR -> SFO: Big plane, Long flight, High percentage of business travelers with lots of gadgets.

Assuming proper configuration, then culprit here is bandwidth. While GoGo Inflight claims \*up to\* 500-600Kbps Down/300 Kbps Up, the total bandwidth for the entire plane is capped at 3 Mbps. Bsically anymore than handful of users and you are at dialup speed.

If you want to make sure you get full 500-600 Kbps speed from an inflight internet service if you follow these instructions:
- Fly from SFO to LAS in mid August when temps in Vegas are in the 110's
- Only fly on a Tuesday and as close to noon as possible
- Ensure the only people on the plane are you, and a grandmother flying with her 3 year old grandson
- If the latter is not possible, confiscate any wifi capable devices any other passengers may have.

Posted by ThinGuy on January 12, 2011 at 11:35 PM PST #

I do wish people would just sleep or read a book on the plane. Nothing more distracting than somebody near you tapping away on a keyboard or whatever.

Posted by guest on February 09, 2011 at 09:34 AM PST #

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