Desktop cloud: Take it easy with IBM SmartCloud Provisioning and non-persistent VMs

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A usual adoption pattern for cloud computing is desktops. It’s really straightforward because, in general, each company has standardized desktops: only some specific version of the operating system is supported; only specific desktop flavors (styles) are available; only some applications are allowed; and typically everything is managed by the IT team.

If we think of the benefits of adopting desktop cloud, some of the them really jump powerfully in front of our eyes: the IT team can really enforce standardization (for example, you can select only one of the proposed desktop flavors); the maintenance of the hardware becomes far easier given its consolidation; old, outdated PCs can be used only as connectors to the desktop, hence gaining new life. The desktop user longer needs to carry around some company asset to be able to work healthier (no more heavy hardware to take home or to travel), and safer (data is in the cloud).

But this is nothing newdesktop cloud solutions are already on the market, so let’s see if IBM SmartCloud Provisioning can bring additional benefits to the desktop world.

What if we start dealing with non-persistent desktop images?

Non-persistent images are those that disappear after you shut them down. You might be asking yourself “Well, that’s not so cleverwhat about my data? Is it lost?” This is actually a very good point and this is the keystone of the benefits coming with the adoption of non-persistent images.

The idea is that all user data gets stored in external (persistent) volumes that can be attached or detached on demand to the non-persistent image.

If we now apply this technology to the desktop world, it sheds an interesting new light on some typical and painful scenarios:

  • Operating system aging
  • Operating system or software patching
  • Maintaining the compliance of the desktops
  • Optimizing resource consumption
  • Supporting changes in the number of desktop users

In a traditional infrastructure, when the operating system goes or is getting close to being “out-of-maintenance,” a massive migration campaign starts: all desktops need to be migrated. Now the migration statistically does not go smoothly for all users and hence some of them can be stuck for days. If you use non-persistent images, you can easily overcome this problem either by creating a new master image with the new operating system or upgrading a single instance of the image, do your test campaign to make sure everything continues working, deploy the master in as many instances as the desktops you need to upgrade are, and then attach to the new images the volumes with the user data, and destroy the old images. If you take advantage of the incredible deployment speed of IBM SmartCloud Provisioning, you’ll have a brand new set of desktops in minutes.

Analogously we might think about patching the operating system or a software running on the desktop. The key idea behind this approach is that you’re always going to patch either the operating system or a specific software, never the user data that continues to reside in separate volumes.

If we think of the compliance aspect, remember that the user cannot save any change that this user does on the boot disk of the image, because nothing gets ever stored on the disk. Users are empowered to write only their own stuff on the additional volumes. This way should discourage users from even trying to install new software or editing the operating system configuration, because everything will be lost at the first shutdown.

I know that in your company you might have various configurations of the same operating system according to the department for which the desktop is tailored. For example, you might need to have different firewall configurations according to the security level the user is entitled to. Well, with IBM SmartCloud Provisioning, you can take advantage of the User Data field at deployment time to specify these special configurations. Of course this might not be revealed to the user, but you may mask it ,enlarging the list of the offering with the specific configuration. Under the covers, the instance is launched with the proper parameters: no master image duplication, no manual configuration; everything is automated and standardized.

What about optimizing resources? Desktops by their nature all have the same operating system and configuration (at least for the department), and usually they also include the same applications installed on top. If you deal with non-persistent images, you are basically saving lots of duplicated, useless copies of the same operating systems and software on the disk. Then, if you think that after the desktop is shut down, its resources are released (that is, cores and memory), you can better optimize your hardware using those resources for other applications and users (the resources might even be server applications or desktops for users residing in a separate time zones).

New employees coming on board? A project outsourced to an external work-force?

You might want to have these people be productive more than immediately. With IBM SmartCloud Provisioning, their desktops will be up and running in seconds.

Further information about IBM SmartCloud Provisioning can be found in the IBM SmartCloud Provisioning wiki and in IBM SmartCloud Provisioning information center.

See IBM SmartCloud Provisioning working in a recorded demo.

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