Nimdesk: A DIY View on VDI-in-a-Box?

Nimdesk have thrown their hat into the ring of turnkey virtual desktop delivery solutions. Following the trodden route of taking the complexity out of centrally hosted services, Nimdesk have architectured a scale-out converged solution for desktop virtualization and desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) deployments.  With a combination of solutions that includes both a software appliance (, or one of two “converged devices” (Nimdesk true.vdi/true.vdi.stor) Nimdesk aim to help the SME/SMB space: either by appealing directly for on premise services, or by enabling service providers and re-sellers a preconfigured service device to scale services quickly and easily.

Nimdesk claim they have the  simplest and most affordable desktop virtualization for business of any size today. At a headline $99 cost per user for a perpetual license, what do you get and how is it different from existing solutions in this space?

Nimdesk – making DIY VDI easy.

It is likely that the world over, there are couples who are divided as thus. The person who thought they could undertake the DIY project themselves: and their partner who had to ring the professional  not only to do the job, but to fix the damage incurred by the botched project. The goal of any VDI appliance then is to remove complexity of creating, delivering  and maintaining the workspace environments

Nimdesk is intended to allow admins to manage the virtual desktop instance as well providing tools to monitor and load balance the environment.  You can join Nimdesk virtual appliances to create a mesh (not a grid, a mesh) of VM resources automatically providing scale and availability  The appliance doesn’t have a dependency on Microsoft Active Directory. You can work directly in any ad-hoc environment with a template VM to propagate the  amount of virtual desktops your hardware compute resources allows. Nimdesk provides remote access through the Microsoft RDP protocol either through a desktop portal or a local client.

  • Browser: You can login from a web browser where RDP is supported. Nimdesk is protocol agnostic although in this initial release I looked at, only Microsoft RDP is supported.
  • Zero-maintenance Java client: You can login from a Nimdesk  Java client. The client is designed to check for updates and refresh itself automatically avoiding the need to update them periodically.

NimDesk have selected  VMWare ESXi hypervisor as the platform of choice: they have architected their own management and monitoring functions removing the need for VMWare vCenter. ESXi 5.1 allows Nimdesk to utilize the Content Based Read Cache (CBRC), a host-based RAM-Based caching solution designed to reduce read IOs issued to the storage subsystem, thus helping to optimize VDI performance specifically with read-intensive I/O processes such as OS boot and reboot and antivirus scans.

Citrix’s VDI-in-a-box appliance on the other hand supports ESXi too as well as Microsoft’s Hyper-V and Citrix’s XenServer. While it is increasingly true to say that the core hyper-visor features means that hypervisors are almost a commodity: there is prudence in selecting only one because the hypervisor itself will need to be patched and maintained. The question here is in the target SME/SMB space, will ESXi maintain its presence in comparison to Hyper-V? Nimdesk undoubtedly think “yes”.

More importantly, while the management interface for the Nimdesk grid is clean and presents information on utilizatio  from a process point of view, Citrix’s VDI-in-a-Box provides the option of integrating the agent component  into the VM build during the build process, and this agent is automatically updated when the appliance is updated. To help drive a hosted desktop infrastructure’s value automation needs to extend beyond the VM instance management into supporting and updating the actual images themselves.

Nimdesk Appliances : true.vdi,

In addition to the software appliance, Nimdesk have two “converged hardware appliances” designed to enable you to virtualize your hosted desktop environment in readily defined compute blocks.  As with solutions from the likes of Dell, and Pivot3, Nimdesk’s true.vdi appliances are designed to eliminate common hardware based roadblocks to virtual desktop adoption namely cost (per device), complexity and user experience. There are two models:

  • true.vdi standard appliance  can accommodate up to 250 non-persistent VMs per device. License offerings start open at 100 or 200 desktops. You can add licenses in blocks (and additional appliances) as needed. The hardware specification for this appliance at the time of writing is:
    • Supermicro 2U Twin
    • AMD 6000
    • 64GB (4x16GB)
    • SATA DOM
    • ioDrive2 365gb
  • true.vdi.stor is designed to accommodate the needs for persistent VMs. Nimdesk have used LoginVSI to test heavy and office bound workload profiles and determined this appliance will support around 200 VMs.
    • 4TB HDD
    • Supermicro 2U Twin
    • AMD 6000
    • 64GB (4x16GB)
    • SATA DOM (boot)
    • 2-port lo-pro 10gigE intel
    • ioDrive2 785gb

Hosted desktop environments fall into solutions – either they will be persistent, or non-persistent. Arguably if you’ve looked at your desktop environment and thought “I’ll virtualise that” your choice will be persistent, because that is most like what you have now. However including the disk resource increases cost. By all means roll-out non-persistent: but then you need to add to your VDI mix a level of reliable user environment management. Of course, you can create your own scripts and policies to manage this and yes, there are solutions here to optimise that process,  Liquidware’s Profileunity and RES’s Workspace Manager for example, but what this shows is your workspace environment is not simply just a consideration of scale and delivery price, but the on-going management.

The feature set is impressive, but as we discussed with Pivot3’s vSTAC R2, there is benefit in offering customers a range of disk size and network resource. In the SMB/SME space, 1Gb NICs are the norm for example: although likely very useful for partners looking to deliver hosted solutions. Ultimately a converged appliance lives by its support and maintenance a new player, such as NimDesk, is going to have to generate confidence and show a competitive margin for partners.


A New View on VDI-in-a-Box?

We’ve commented before on the viability of turnkey VDI solutions. Ultimately in deploying a hosted solution, what problem are you trying to solve?   VDI Appliances  allow for reduction in complexity of delivering the environment.

From a software appliance model – NimDesk are following  Citrix who went mainstream with their Kaviza acquisition earlier this year. VDI-in-a-Box has since seen a point release that introduces features such as personalization (using Citrix’s Personal vDisk technology), HDX optimisations, a touchless DT agent. Arguably, Citrix’s acquisition looked to create a more stream lined approach as their XenDesktop solution has a number of components and for DaaS vendors, the likes of Desktone were offering solutions that were scalable with less complexity. Yet VDI-in-a-box is targeted at on-premise solutions for smaller organisations.   Nimdesk’s challenge if they are appealing to Desktop-as-a-Service DaaS providers is to support a range of OS types (Windows 7, 8, Windows 2008R2/2012) in the VMs; and for SMB/SMEs to simplify the management and update of VM instances once they are in place.

The one off perpetual (<$100, @$30/year support)) is an interesting “DaaS” compete: although that cost is a license cost: there is a hardware cost on top of that. Add in a server (@$10k), add in VDA licenses ($100), and another server because you don’t want your eggs in one basked (@$10k) and that headline figure starts to push up.

In terms of  “do it yourself” Nimdesk are offering both software and hardware: they’ve a new play in that. Vendors have an opportunity to keep their own hardware preferences, and take a viable software appliance to streamline the hosted delivery piece: or use a converged and optimized piece. Nimdesk’s challenge is not just thinking of a new word for Grid, but positioning the hardware appliances against existing vendors  and driving out complexity of the VM management environment.