Monday Mar 18, 2013

What's New in Oracle VDI 3.5?

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. 

Virtual Hard Drives

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. 

New Platforms

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.

Anything else?

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:



Tuesday Jun 12, 2012

Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

A lot of the recent blog entries here have been about Oracle VM VirtualBox, possibly the coolest personal desktop virtualization product known to man. Deploying VirtualBox on your PC or Mac lets you run many virtual desktops at the same time to one user, you.

But did you know that VirtualBox can also power an Enterprise-scale virtual desktop deployment too, delivering many desktops to many users? 

As part of another Oracle product, Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), VirtualBox can run your Windows, Linux or Solaris desktops on servers located in the datacenter. Oracle VDI orchestrates the whole deal by looking after :

  • creating or cloning the virtual desktops from a master template;
  • managing the lifecycle of the desktops (create, start, suspend, resume, stop, delete);
  • assigning which users get which desktops; 
  • delivering easy and fast access to these virtual desktops from almost any device, such as existing PCs or Macs, iPads, or specially designed Sun Ray client devices too;
  • load balancing and session management of all of this.

 Architecturally the solution looks something like this:

VDI Architecture

This is an increasingly hot area of the IT landscape, so the Fat Bloke has decided to create a new blog category (VDI) and dedicate a few blog entries to look into this in a bit more detail over the next few weeks.

Watch this space...

- FB 

Wednesday Sep 23, 2009

VirtualBox Virtual Disk formats

The hard-drive(s) of your virtual machines are simply files which are stored typically on the host's filesystem. On my Mac they're in 


VirtualBox understands several disk formats including:

  • .vdi or "Virtual Disk Image", the native format for VirtualBox
  • .vmdk - VMware's format
  • .vhd - Microsoft's format

This means that if you have an existing hard drive from another virtualization platform, you can plug it into a VirtualBox vm by telling the system about it using the Virtual Media Manager...

Sun VirtualBox

Virtual Media Manager

 And then configuring it in the vm's Storage configuration dialog (or via the command line):

Android - Storage

Given that VirtualBox not only understands, but can also create, these different formats, one obvious question is "what is the difference?" or "which one is best?" 

One of the VirtualBox team (thanks Klaus) explained:

"The major difference is that VDI uses relatively large blocks (1MB) when growing an image, and thus has less overhead for block pointers etc. but isn't ultimately space efficient in the sense that if a single byte is non-zero in such a 1MB block the entire space is used.
VMDK in contrast uses 64K blocks, and thus has more management overhead and generally a bit less disk space consumption
What offsets this is that VDI is more efficient when it comes to snapshots."

So now you know!

- FB 

Tuesday Jun 09, 2009

Sun VirtualBox and Sun VDI Power JavaOne

Even though you may be away from the office attending a conference, the rest of the world moves on and you quite often need to keep up with your day job. At JavaOne this year, Sun provisioned 21,000 Virtual Desktops for the attendees to use to stay on top of things. This blog entry describes briefly how this was done using VirtualBox and Sun VDI...

User's experience

Dotted around the Moscone Center were hundreds of Sun Rays. These were in the Lobby Areas,

Underpass between North and South Halls, 

and Cyber Lounge areas in the Pavilion.

Every JavaOne attendee was given a smartcard as part of their Welcome Kit on registration. And all you needed to do to get your Virtual Desktop was insert this into the nearest free Sun Ray.

The user can then choose which type of Virtual Desktop they want from:

  • Windows 7 
  • Ubuntu 8.10
  • OpenSolaris 2009.06 

Under the hood:

The first time you make this choice your Virtual Desktop virtual machine (vm) is created based on a template in Sun VDI. The virtual machine configuration is held in a MySQL database and the virtual disk image is quickly cloned from the template using a feature of ZFS which underpins the Sun Storage 7000 servers that were in use. Then Sun VDI chooses a VirtualBox server (based on load) and launches the new vm on that server, with the configuration and iSCSI target id that uniquely identifies the new virtual disk.

When you pull your card out the vm suspends after a short period which means resources can be freed up for other users.

When you re-insert your card and launch a previously created Virtual Desktop, the vm is restored from disk (note that this can be to a different VirtualBox server than the original session ) and you are good to go.

Here is my Windows 7 Virtual Desktop.

Administrator Experience 

To manage the 21,000 virtual desktops we had 2 guys (admittedly smart guys).

And the whole thing was powered by a single rack:

The rack consisted of:

  • 4 VDI servers - 4 Sun Fire X4450, each with 4 CPUs and 64 GB memory.
  • 5 VirtualBox servers - 5 Sun Fire X4450 servers, each 4 CPUs, 6 cores per CPU and 64 GB of memory.
  • 3 Storage servers - 3 \* 7210 Unified Storage servers.

This was vastly over-spec'ed as we could see using the Analytics of the storage servers:

Thanks to Christian and Thomas (our architects and admins for the week) and kudos to Dirk's and Achim's teams.

- FB 

Thursday Oct 11, 2007


Most of you may know this already but for those that don't, I thought I'd take a minute to explain a little about SGD and its place in the new VDI market....

Server Based Computing (SBC)

SGD was originally designed to allow people to run local and remote apps side by side in a hybrid desktop model. The remote applications were made to look like local ones (seamless windows), and behave like local ones (printing, filesystem access, audio, etc) but they were actually running on back end server platforms. And most SGD customers use multiple local and remote apps simultaneously, e.g. they'll have several windows open running a mix of Windows, Solaris, Linux, etc. apps

This approach solves issues of data security (lost laptops), manageability (apps live on servers in datacenter) and mobility (use any client from any network location). So administrators can decide which apps should be centrally located and which local on the users PC.

But what if you wanted to deliver not just the apps, but the whole desktop environment too? Well, some SGD users do this today when they publish a full Windows desktop or Gnome-session, say. But traditionally, these have been desktops delivered from Windows Terminal Servers or Solaris/Linux Servers. And the problem with Windows Terminal Server has been that some apps just don't work in a Windows server environment (e.g. they expect a unique IP address or global access to the registry/filesystem, because they were designed to run on a PC).

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

So what is usually meant by VDI is that the desktop environments (usually Windows desktop environments) are not running on servers, but running on Windows \*client\* OSes which are themselves running in individual virtual machines on a server. e.g. Windows XP or Windows Vista instances on, say, VMware ESX Servers.

This is interesting because those misbehaved apps now have a better chance of working because they are running on the platform for which they were designed, a Windows PC.

Now all we have to do is provide secure access to these desktops, and that's what SGD has been doing for years just like this...


So hopefully you can see that SGD is equally applicable for SBC and VDI.

One more thing: if the value you derive from SGD is proportional to the number of apps you access via it, should I pay as much when I use SGD in a VDI environment? After all I'm just delivering a single app - the Windows desktop.

Thankfully, those smart guys in Sun Marketing have delivered a new product for exactly this use case.

When you buy licenses for Sun xVM VDI Software you are allowed to use SGD or Sun Ray Software to deliver a single desktop environment per user.


Fat Bloke


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