VDI 3.0 . The Orchestrator

There are a few impressive features on the Sun Virtual Desktop Infrastructure software. The software is currently running version 3.0 and the 3.1 beta version is out for testing. I had the opportunity to explore 3.0 in the lab this past week.

We have several key technologies in the virtualization field, some of them are extremely mature , (Sun Ray), some of them fairly new (VirtualBox) and some of them enterprise quality design (Secure Global Desktop). All these elements are nicely coordinated by the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure platform.

  1. The VDI software 3.0 has a very elegant directorial role of managing the different components of the mix, with a peaceful coexistence. We see that the software allows to incorporate 2 Desktop Virtualization Providers in parallel and a choice of an Authentication authority. It even pitches in to compensate for the Enterprise features that Virtualbox still lacks. Cloning Capabilities, data store and high availability are controlled by the VDI server, which provides the ability to use templates and interact with the Virtual Deskto Providers , creating and administering clones of virtualized desktops. VDI also coordinates the thin client platform, the Sun Ray server, with the help of the authentication authority to dictate which desktop will be provisioned to which thin client, and it does it seamlessly.

  2. For the authentication piece, we have the choice of LDAP or Active Directory.

  3. For the Virtualization Platform we have 2 coexisting choices: Vmware and Virtualbox; which means you can have a luxurious virtualization environment and a free alternative. There is no doubt that Vmware offers the most robust alternative with multiple capabilities for monitoring, managing and cloning the virtualization platform; but VDI does something very interesting with Virtualbox, a separation of roles and responsibilities. There is the application layer or Virtualbox servers and the data storage ,where the virtualized desktop will reside. This is quite ingenious because we can add several Vbox servers and they will receive their call for duty to launch the images from the data store in a potential “N to N” relationship. VDI, as the orchestrator decides which VirtualBox server is best suited to launch a virtualized desktop. In the Vmware scenario, this is not necessary as Vmware has these features already implemented, so in this case VDI simply asks Vmware to bring up a desktop and Vmware in turns will manage all the logic of the images and the application servers.

  4. Assigning the desktop to users follows a simple and powerful model. VDI Administrators have the option of classifying the virtual desktops in “pools”, which could be “Finance Desktops” vs “Administrative Services”, or any other criteria that could be used to establish differences between potentially different groups. Users, (recognized by either an LDAP or an Active Directory instance) can be assigned to these pools of desktops or can be assigned to individual desktops. Simple, yet powerful.

  5. One of the features I like the most is the Cloning capabilities of the platform. Often times we talk about features that make life easier for administrators. This optional feature is truly one of them. A pool can be configured to use a template image and to create clones of desktops according to certain rules. As an example, we could indicate that whenever we have less than 2 free desktops in a pool, the system should go ahead and create more images (3, 4 or whatever number we choose). That way, a pool who is running “low” on virtual desktops could automatically expand itself. Any user who would try to connect to this particular pool, will most likely find a free desktop available. Any virtualized desktop can be transformed into a Template . In the case of Windows, an utility called sysprep must be used. This utility can be found in the install CD of the Windows operating system.

  6. In an effort to reduce power consumption, users might be interested in powering off their Desktops when they leave the office. That is certainly a good practice. When a user logs in, VDI determines his/her corresponding desktop and attempts to serve it to the thin client. If by any chance the assigned desktop is powered off, the VDI server will send a signal to the Desktop Provider (Vmware or Vbox) to power it on. The user will see the booting process evolve in the thin client screen.

  7. The Secure Global Desktop (SGD) Integration is quite interesting. Under normal circumstances, SGD would require to know the IP addresses of all the servers it would connect to, and the applications (Windows Desktop, Gnome Desktop) would be attached to these servers. In our lab when we create a virtual machine (Vmware of Virtualbox) we incorporate it to SGD with its hostname and IP address, and then attach applications to it. VDI steps up again in its orchestration role here, instead of identifying each virtual machine into SGD, we only need to make sure that SGD has access to VDI and we only need to create one application (e.g. Windows Desktop) attached to that VDI server. SGD will then rely on VDI to authenticate the user and provide the appropriate desktop environment. The result is then the ability to take the thin client context out of the thin client environment and provision the same desktop over an http connection.

  8. The Architecture dimension has the high availability elements that we always expect from Sun. The production environment recommends 1 primary server and 2 secondary servers to run the VDI platform. The Desktop Providers can be multiple ones, and with the separation of the image repository, Multiple Virtualbox servers can run the desktop images. The images in turn are stored in a data repository un ZFS, which allows for the creation of image snapshots for backup and restore purposes.


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