Atlantis ILIO Persistent VDI 4.0 – VDI Game Changer?

Atlantis Computing have released the first in-memory storage solution for persistent VDI. Setting aside the remoted experience, peripheral support, licensing and off-line access – the most nemesising nemesis for VDI is hardware scale. A major hardware limiting factor is storage performance.

In a transition from physical PCs to virtual work spaces you can move 50,1000,20,000 people from an environment where everyone has their own hard drive in their own device, to a shared environment where there are (hopefully) no longer 50,1000,20,000 hard-drives.  You do this to achieve cost savings. Still, in the majority of instances, the desktop file system and the apps that run on it weren’t designed to understand such consolidation. Many a desktop project fails because the storage infrastructure wasn’t architected with these mismatches in mind.

Yet, desktop virtualization solutions have have matured to accommodate such issues. A range of increasingly impressive VDI appliances: dedicated drive arrays. Way back in 2010 we were reporting that Atlantis Computing were looking to Transform Desktop Computing with their  In Line Image and Optimization (ILIO) product. Atlantis Computing’s core ILIO product sought to address optimizing non-persistent VDI instances, then offered a RAM based solution with their ILIO DiskLess VDI, then presented a way to optimize Citrix XenApp instances. Atlantis’ offerings look to dramatically reduce the physical hardware required to support virtualized desktop infrastructures.

And now to their portfolio, Atlantis Computing add ILIO Persistent VDI 4.0. Some early stability issues aside, Atlantis have developed a strong and supportive market and expanded on it. What is in this release? If 2013 is to be the year of VDI – how does  ILIO Persistent VDI 4.0 help? Importantly, will Atlantis Computing’s  ILIO Persistent VDI  change the game?

Persistent VDI Dilemma

There are three types of virtual desktop: like your children each equally special.

You have an RDSH/Presentation Virtualization desktop –  each user has their “desktop” where that desktop environment is a session on a server OS. Atlantis have a solution for this that may make you question VDI. Yet, RDSH is a shared OS, there can be license, support and management issues hosting a server OS, even at scale. There is still value in virtualising the desktop OS. That said, RDSH vs VDI is not always an either/or choice.

It is possible to deliver a generic desktop OS instance: a stateless virtual desktop. Stateless desktops require that you closely manage that virtual desktop instance to keep it standardized, and have a form of workspace virtualization to persist user application settings and configuration between sessions: likely application virtualization too. Generally, stateless is a great solution for relatively simple office productivity environments with small/static application sets.

However, the most compelling investment in delivering a desktop OS is for high value, high complexity environments. Persistent virtual desktops offer the best opportunity here: create a desktop VM, assign it to a demanding user. If you can provide an engineer, designer, trader, analyst or developer with a desktop that has fault tolerance (e.g. you can work in the event of a device/site failure) , is accessible remotely (you can work from home/on the move), and has a backup facility while generally being well managed and maintained (because the instance is centralised) you can reduce your business  risk,  improve productivity and enhance the opportunity for future change.

Perhaps this is why persistent VDI is around 70% of the VDI market.

Of the three virtual desktop instances – persistent is the most flexible for users, yet the most expensive to implement on hardware terms. Storage is key to Persistent VDI success. Importantly, persistent VDI users expect *better* than a desktop performance, and that normally means lots of storage resource.

The persistent VDI dilemma is, how do I deliver create a cost effective environment that allows a VM to give top end device performance to a range of devices?

Atlantis ILIO Persistent VDI 4.0 – What’s New?

Well.. persistence. And replication. But really, what have Atlantis Computing done for us in 4.0? Persistent VDI 4.o is  the first version of a solution that looks to ensure there is no need for a standard desktop image change, to implement application virtualization, or to introduce workspace virtualization components. In addition, no storage network traffic or bottlenecks to contend with as all instances are in RAM. This release may well ruffle feathers in the wider desktop virtualization eco-system.

Mind, RAM is volatile: persistent VDI can’t do away with disk resource: it may well be clever, but its not magic. Atlantis ILIO Fast Replication technology maintains a real-time optimized backup on shared SAN/NAS storage to preserve the state of all persistent virtual desktops to deliver data protection and recovery.


Atlantis ILIO Persistent VDI


In the above user example, there are a number of instances running on session hosts in RAM.  As part of 4.0, Atlantis Computing have introduced a “Replication Host”, a VM tasked with maintaining the master copy of each user’s memory data blocks. In the event of a Session Host failure availability to users is maintained through the Replication Host. As with previous Atlantis Computing solutions, because the solution is software based, your VDI scalability can be less expensive then a pure hardware version, and the solution allows you to utilize commoditized hardware. Typically all VM instances (optimized by Atlantis) disk activity is occurring in RAM, and RAM is much faster than any physical disk.

For some, there will be a whisper in Atlantis Computing’s laurel wreath crowned ear, “how stable is the replication host component?”. In-memory is fundamentally fast up until the power stops: you are only as good as your weakest link. Still, given Atlantis have a software based solution, change is more readily achievable than hardware solutions.

Game Changer?

What is perhaps key for Atlantis Computing’s Persistent VDI is the increasing scope of using RAM as viable storage for enterprise virtual machine workloads. RAM Drives aren’t a new concept – they’ve been around since the late 70s – that’s post Star Wars, and Star Wars was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

While I can see advantages of various competing technologies, I’m a great fan of virtualised desktops. I’m a great fan because virtualised desktops offer a user availability that can never be attained by hosting on a single device.

But, there is a finite lifetime to that “skill”. To revisit the VDI dilemma, no matter how much you love your children, they will leave home .

What is compelling for Atlantis’ Persistent VDI solution is it shows a life beyond VDI. Atlantis have delivered a stateless solution, a server solution (XenApp) and now a persistent desktop solution. The complexity of the state of the instances supported is increasing. The next logical step is to offer support for server based VMs. Then you’re offering hosting companies the opportunity to reduce their storage capacity and really making a play into the software defined datacentre.

In delivering any IT problem, software is halfway round the world before the hardware has got its boots on. The key for Atlantis Computing is to attempt to stay ahead of the hardware vendors not only for market share, but channel engagement.

There is an option  of a longer term server play but the opportunity to deliver persistent hosted desktop, persistent VDI while dramatically reducing storage requirements will (re)enable a very different set of desktop virtualization conversations.