By Fat Bloke on Mar 18, 2013
Oracle has just released Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure version 3.5, a major new release which introduces some great new features, but also allows a VDI deployment that can start with a single server, yet scale to the Enterprise. Here's a quick review of some of these features:
Single Server to the Enterprise
For too long, the notion of VDI, or server-hosted virtual desktops, has been held back by the perceived high entry cost of the hardware needed to support it. It is assumed that virtualization requires both x86 servers and specialized ( i.e. "expensive" ) shared storage on which to hold the virtual machines. But Oracle's VDI solution challenges this with the option of using the local storage of the x86 server itself. This means that it is possible to build a single server solution using commodity hardware which can host hundreds of desktops. (If you want to build this yourself check out the excellent Getting Started Guide on this VDI documentation site.)
And the architecture is powerful enough such that, to expand capacity you can simply add more servers, or, as your deployment grows, plug-in shared storage devices too.
So it's easy to get started, and easy to grow, but can it scale to the Enterprise, because Enterprise-scale deployments need Enterprise-scale tools, right?
Oracle Enterprise Manager 12c is such a tool. Now with support for Oracle VDI, Enterprise Manager can monitor your virtual desktop fleet and associated infrastructure, providing an instantaneous dashboard of the health of the system, pre-defined alerts should things start to go wrong, and an historical record of how things changed allowing rapid diagnosis of any issues as soon as they occur.
Smarter Virtual Desktop Management
In VDI, Virtual Drives are just files managed by the server(s). Previous versions of Oracle VDI used this knowledge to streamline how a virtual hard drive can be cloned from a master template (using Linked Clones) and how to separate System Hard Drives (i.e. C: ) from User Data in Personal Hard Drives, which are just another file on the server, but which can be plugged into newly minted virtual desktops, preserving user data across invocations and updates of the System Disk.
Version 3.5 introduces a few new smart use cases involving Virtual Hard Drives:
Personal Hard Drives
Many organizations use Roaming Profiles allowing users to move between PCs with their data following them. In a virtualized environment, this approach is useful, but expensive on system resources because virtual desktops have a shorter lifecycle meaning that downloading the Profile happens frequently. So Oracle VDI allows profiles to be imported into a Personal Hard Drive which is then mapped into a newly created and provisioned Virtual Desktop without the hit on the network or the storage.
Similarly, Personal Hard Drives can be exported to a shared location as part of a backup regime.
Application Hard Drives
In a virtual desktop world how do you install new applications for users? Many sysadmins will install new applications in a new revision of the System Template, but others are using Application Virtualization technology such as Microsoft's App-V. With this, an App-V client is installed on the desktop and applications are streamed from a central server when required. But this results in slow startup times unless the App-V client has the application already in a local cache. And in a large virtual desktop deployment, the 9 o'clock problem is made worse by this approach because newly manufactured vm's will have an empty cache.
Oracle VDI 3.5 solves this with the notion of an Application Hard Drive - a virtual disk specifically assigned to hold an App-V cache, which is shared amongst many users and pre-populated with applications. This means applications startup faster and the load on the network and storage is greatly reduced.
Richer User Experience
So far, we've talked about features which will appeal to the System Administrator or Solution Architect, but what is there in 3.5 for the End-User?
End users typically access Oracle VDI from an existing device (e.g. PC, iPad, etc) running the OVDC (Oracle Virtual Desktop Client) or from the excellent Sun Ray Clients, which are specifically designed to access your server-hosted virtual desktop securely and easily. And one of the cool things about VDI is that you can move from device to device and access the exact-same desktop session, right down to the last keystroke. Well, with 3.5 it gets even smoother jumping between devices even if the resolution of the displays is radically different, and the orientation changes. You can even resize the OVDC window and the server-hosted desktop changes resolution too, making it a very natural experience.
Oracle VDI was already pretty good at remoting even the richest desktop media types, using special codecs for displaying YouTube videos, for example. But in 3.5 it gets even better. Windows Media applications (Player and IE plugins) get accelerated by intercepting the high level codec and using built-in assists on the client to display media on to the screen. This eases the load on the server which otherwise would be spending time decoding and encoding video.
Oracle VDI 3.5 supports the latest Windows desktop platform, Windows 8. But did you know that Oracle VDI also support Linux and Solaris desktops too, including the latest Ubuntu platform. This means that however broad your user base, Oracle VDI can deliver the desktop platform they need. And as for the VDI deployment platform itself, 3.5 runs on Solaris 10 or 11 and on Oracle Linux 5.8 and 6.3 too. See the Release Notes for more details.
There are many, many other new features we've not had the space to cover here but as it is now easy to set up a single, self-contained VDI deployment on a single server, you can find these out for yourself. Here are a few useful links to help you on your journey: