Atlantis Computing Diskless VDI: VDI warming up to compete on cost with desktop PC

Atlantis Computing announced today the release of Atlantis ILIO Diskless VDI™ and overnight put VDI on track to be cost competitive with desktop PCs.

VDI’s biggest challenge has always been the large capital investment it requires to deploy the data center infrastructure needed to make it work. The single biggest component of this has always been storage. Enterprise-class SAN storage does not come cheap, in many cases costing more than $1000 per desktop for the SAN storage alone. The big challenge here has always been IOPS, VDI needs hundreds of IOPS per desktop during times of peak loading (bootup and session logon) and typical SAN storage is optimized for capacity rather than throughput, making it necessary either to over provision the number of spindles, or deploy high-performance flash memory controllers to improve throughput. While both of these solutions work, they comprise the single largest cost component of any VDI infrastructure making it prohibitively expensive for most organizations.

In order to counter this cost  many VDI customers have been early adopters of Virtual Storage Appliances (VSA) that cache files locally in hypervisor memory to optimize read performance, while de-duplicating and re-sequencing write requests together reducing reducing VDI IOPS loading to the point where low-cost commodity storage can be used to replace high-cost high-performance SANs. Leading VSA vendors such as Atlantis Computing and Virsto Software can improve storage efficiency by as much as 9x, significantly contributing to lowering the overall cost of VDI. Now Atlantis Computing have announced that they have taken this technology one step further with the introduction of Atlantis ILIO Diskless VDI, lowering the cost of VDI and accelerating its performance to levels that until now have required SSD-based storage.

Atlantis claims that ILIO Diskless VDI enables customers to reduce production server CapEx costs to under $200 per desktop, and eliminate storage related CapEx and OpEx costs. Taking into account the additional cost of software licenses and additional hardware for non-production and business continuity environments, and the total cost of VDI falls to somewhere between $1,000-$1,100 per desk. Contrast this with the $2,600 that a conventional VDI solution might cost and the benefits of diskless VDI become obvious.

Atlantis ILIO Diskless VDI software works with all virtual desktop solutions to eliminate the use of storage for non-persistent virtual desktop deployments. With existing VDI solutions, virtual desktop images are stored on either shared SAN/NAS storage or local SAS/SSD disks. Atlantis ILIO Diskless VDI is software that performs NTFS traffic processing and inline de-duplication of images to run all desktops from local server memory. at the same time Diskless VDI gets to the heart of the performance problems that have plagued many early VDI implementations. With all IOPS performed in local server memory, there are no disk bottlenecks to limit performance, at the same time storage latency is effectively eliminated. This results in response times that are faster than local SSD drives (MLC or SLC). Early production implementations of Diskless VDI have shown desktop boot times of 11-12 seconds, contrast that with a desktop PC with a good SSD drive taking 20-25 seconds to boot and Diskless VDI is hard to fault.

The key to effective implementation of Diskless VDI is memory and lots of it. Which from a hardware perspective strongly favors Cisco UCS and its Extended Memory Technology. Atlantis Computing has published a case study of an early deployment by PAETEC Communications (Now a Windstream Company) based on Cisco UCS. PAETEC is deploying 160 virtual desktops per Cisco B230 M2 blade using the Atlantis ILIO software  in combination with Citrix XenDesktop.  This configuration will allow PAETEC to deploy up to 6,400 virtual desktops in a single rack of Cisco UCS blade servers without the need to purchase any storage.

Steve Bell, Infrastructure Systems Architect for PAETEC Communications clearly believes this is a winning technology combination “As a result of Atlantis ILIO and Cisco UCS, our virtual desktop solution costs less than a workstation or laptop, provides a better user experience, and was able to reduce or eliminate our storage, network, power, cooling, and rack space CAPEX and OPEX costs more so than any other VDI offering. From a storage perspective, we wanted to eliminate the reliance of VDI on SAN/NAS storage while at the same time not sacrificing and perhaps even improving overall user experience. We considered local SSDs as well as PCI based RAM drives, but these solutions by themselves either drove up VDI costs, reduced the number of virtual desktops, or proved to be inferior to Atlantis ILIO optimization capabilities. We found the perfect solution with Atlantis ILIO Diskless VDI combined with Cisco UCS, which will make it possible to eliminate all disk-based storage and run upwards of 160 Citrix XenDesktop virtual desktops on each blade.”

$1,000 per desktop does not yet compete with the average price of $570 for an enterprise desktop, but when used in combination with a BYOD program, or where laptops might otherwise be used, the overall cost of a VDI desktop quickly starts to approach that of a conventionally implemented desktop. Bear in mind also that this is only the first of several downward pricing events that will take place in 2012. In October 2011, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton predicted that the cost of VDI would drop below that of a conventional (desktop) PC by the end of 2012. While this remains a difficult goal to reach,  it may well be that’s the cost of VDI is so close to that of a PC that it ceases to matter.