One of the big issues for virtual desktop infrastructure has always been controlling the cost per user without compromising the user experience. Another common thing has been that the largest VDI vendors each have had their own hypervisor. One of the significant elements of controlling cost is to automate the creation of the user’s desktop VMs. The ability of a VDI product to control a hypervisor is central to controlling its operational cost. It is also a useful capability for any hypervisor that is providing an API for VDI products. It turns out that Nutanix is the only major hypervisor vendor without its own VDI product.
I have seen a few attempts to use alternative hypervisors for virtual desktop infrastructure. One interesting one is this presentation at the OpenStack Summit in Paris on VDI with OpenStack. The main challenge I see is that a VDI broker needs integration with a hypervisor before it is useful. Without the integration, it is up to the administrator to create each desktop VM and assign that VM to a user. I doubt that any non-trivial VDI deployment will accept a solution that doesn’t integrate with a hypervisor. Now, imagine that you are an HCI vendor with a reputation for doing VDI who wants to sell systems with your own hypervisor. This is exactly where Nutanix finds itself. I do wonder whether the Nutanix world-domination mission will lead to a native Nutanix VDI solution. Right now, there are a few solutions that integrate with Nutanix.
I first saw Workspot before it was integrated with Nutanix’s Prism interface and Acropolis hypervisor. Workspot had briefed me a couple of times, and the solution left me a bit cold. I didn’t see the value of a web portal to access my on-premises resources through my existing SSL VPN. The big thing that I felt was missing was the ability to have Workspot drive the creation of desktops in the same way as VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop. I was pleased when Workspot came back and showed me exactly that. Using the Workspot cloud portal, I set up my Nutanix Community edition environment to automatically create desktops for my users. I like this solution, as the complexity of the VDI broker is a cloud service, yet my desktops are all in my data center.
Nutanix and Citrix have been working together since the release of the Acropolis platform to have Prism and Acropolis fully supported with XenDesktop. For Citrix, the value is to be able to work with whatever VM platform its customers choose, whether vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, or something else, like the Nutanix Prism API. I was interested to read Brian Suhr’s discussion of the differing scaling characteristics of VMware vSphere with View and Nutanix Acropolis hypervisor with XenDesktop. While some of his vSphere and View scaling numbers are out of date, they do highlight the differences in the way different products scale. There are always architectural constraints on a large VDI design, but it is nice if they do not have an impact until massive scale.
Nutanix has integrations with other VDI vendors, including Ericom and Systancia. It also has a well-documented API that makes it easy for other vendors to integrate into Prism. The Prism API works irrespective of the underlying hypervisor. I was also interested in some of the ways that customers are deploying VDI on Nutanix without a conventional VDI broker. I spoke with Raghu Nandan, senior director of product management at Nutanix, about customers whose VDI needs were met by directly calling the Prism API. A handful of customers have DevOps methods in use for creating user desktops. Using a configuration management tool like Chef or Puppet, they can provision desktops from master images and attach data disks as required. The users are provided the IP address of the VM and connect directly to that VM. I can imagine this being part of a test process for new software builds by which lead users in the business must test and sign off prior to code going to production. Naturally, there are also smaller customers for whom a Windows Server running Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) is a sufficient solution, with no broker required.
Integrating your hypervisor with your VDI is important in any moderate to large deployment. Having its own hypervisor but not its own VDI product puts Nutanix in an unusual position. The published Prism API does minimize the barrier to having VDI vendors support the Nutanix platform.