Citrix and Dell team up to deliver VDI-in-a-Box

Dell has joined the the highly competitive and technically diversified single box desktop virtualization market  in partnership with Citrix to package VDI-in-a-Box as a virtual appliance. The somewhat awkwardly named Dell “DVS Simplified 1010” appliance is built on the Dell PowerEdge R710 rack server that comes pre-installed with Citrix XenServer 5.6 and VDI-in-a-Box 5.0.

Dell already offers VMware View as part of its Flexible Client Solutions offering that can be ordered online as part of a standard server package. However, the simplified in everything but name, DVS Simplified 1010 goes considerably further delivering it as a dedicated plug-and-play appliance.

The full package is comprised of:

  • Dell PowerEdge R710 server equipped with:
    • 2 x 6 core Intel x5675 Xeon processors clocked at 3.06 GHz
    • 96 GB of DDR 3 memory
    • 8 x 146 GB 15k RPM SAS drives
  • VDI-in-a-Box software
  • 3 years hardware and software maintenance
  • 3 years support

Depending on workload, Dell estimate that it should be possible to run between 40 and 80 users per desktop and that it will cost under $500 per desktop – excluding the endpoint, and Microsoft Windows licensing.

Dell is following Cisco’s lead by providing a single point of contact for all hardware and software support services, taking the uncertainty out of obtaining a timely and responsive support services for what can’t otherwise be a frustrating experience especially for budget conscious SMB customers. Dell also provides a range of onsite and remote profession services for organizations looking for assistance with training and installation. Dell further simplify the process by offering DevonIT sourced OptiPlex FX 130 and FX170 thin clients, enabling customers to buy a comprehensive package of hardware software and support from a single source.

The Dell R710 is a typical high density rack server, which, although designed with virtualization in mind, like many similar servers suffers from memory performance limitations that will limit its performance as a VDI platform. While it can accommodate up to 288 GB of memory in 18 DIMM sockets, it can only fill all sockets if the memory speed is clocked down to 800 MHz. Maximum performance of 1333 MHz can only be achieved using one  DIMM per channel per memory controller hub (MCH) which limits memory capacity to 96 GB. The choice of lower cost 15k RPM SAS drives over SSD further limits performance. It’s a little long in the tooth new dating back to 2009, leaving it looking distinctly under-powered when compared to newer, more expensive platforms such as the Cisco B250 M2 blade which can easily accommodate twice number of desktops in a smaller footprint.

This doesn’t mean it is obsolete, and pairing it with VDI in a box means that it can scale out without any performance penalty, which is no bad thing given that Dell’s primary market will be its current SMB customers that are looking to VDI either as a strategic desktop service or as a means of migrating to Windows 7. Here Dell will face competition both from established hardware vendors primarily HP and Lenovo as well startups like Pano Logic, Nutanix, Pivot 3, and V3 Systems. So far HP and Lenovo have failed to deliver anything even remotely comparable to the DVS 1010, and even though it lacks the innovative design and raw performance offered by its competitors the Dell name will win it sales where these technically superior solutions may have to work harder.

All in all, this is a competent if uninspiring platform for hosting virtual desktops. It does much to remove the complexity from the decision-making process around VDI and there is no doubting the value of VDI-in-a-Box. Dell has had challenges with providing effective support in the past, but these issues appear to be behind it now and although its ability to support VDI-in-a-Box is unproven, it’s does not appear to represent a significant cause for concern. Given the specifications of the PowerEdge R710 customers looking for leading-edge performance may be advised to look elsewhere, especially if they are comfortable with the slightly higher risk associated with working with some of the start-ups mentioned above.