Sunday, 27 April 2008

SAAAP!? VDI - Why is Storage Such an Issue?

A rather contentious title for a post, but there are a few things on the storage front that have been bugging me lately. The body of this post will probably have very little to do with storage, just bear with me on this little derailed train of thought.

The most common thing we see around the interwebs lately on the storage front all seem to be targeted at this issue of the storage cost with VDI. Single instancing, de-duplication, linked cloning, disk streaming... you all know what I'm talking about. But is this storage issue best solved by the storage vendors?

Maintaining state on the endpoints is the reason why we need so much storage for VDI. Even with some jedi mind trickery on the storage side to reduce duplicate OS files, there's still the applications. Which could be addressed to a similar degree with the same tricks and some kind of de-duplication, but I honestly don't think the technology is there yet. Not when Microsoft is releasing security patches on a monthly basis. The de-dup functionality from the likes of NetApp is way cool no doubt, but it's a post-processing operation. And while it may be pure philosophy on my part, I just can't see that approach scaling too well - prevention is better than cure, after all. And while de-dup via post processing is certainly a more viable option than what is currently available in a pre-processing engine, all I can say is keep an eye on that space.

Another kind of de-dup I'm sure we'll see bandied about more is Citrix Provisioning Server, the rebranded Ardence product. But again, while very, very cool, it's not very practical currently due to the non-persistence of the cache. One reboot and you're back to square 1 - which is great for a grid compute farm, but not so great for VDI.

Application virtualisation obviously goes a long way towards solving this problem. VMware knows this, otherwise the Thinstall acquisition wouldn't make much sense. With app virtualisation and presentation virtualisation and we're finally starting to address the storage problem. But a major piece is still missing - environment virtualisation.

Environment virtualisation is something that people in the presentation virtualisation (read:Citrix folk) space are very familiar with. I'm not talking about simple profile redirection or mandatory profiles - I'm talking about real environment virtualisation. The kind of thing that allows you to logon to a desktop, fire up Excel, then logon to a VDI machine on the other side of the world and open Excel on that, then fire up another Excel session from a presentation server in New York, and then another one from a presentation server in Sydney, and have all your application preferences individually delivered and saved accordingly. The kind of technology that streams your profile to wherever it needs to go. Mark it for replication around the globe or don't - the choice is yours.

Which leads me inexorably back to the title of this post. Why is storage such an issue for VDI? If the endpoint was stateless, would this issue still exist? In such a world, could we use, dare I say it, local storage on a large scale? Does this have greater implications - with a fully virtualised (machine, app, and environment) stack, could Microsoft finally have a leg to stand on with the "Quick Migration vs VMotion" debate? Comments are open - what do you think?

NOTE: I changed the title of this post after finishing it and realising the original title was just plain wrong. So apologies if you came here via an RSS feed!

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