When is virtual desktop infrastructure not the right solution?

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Co-authored by Francesco Pedulla

A couple of years ago, a customer asked me an unusual and very intriguing question: can you design and provide a cloud infrastructure capable of supporting—in a seamless fashion—both virtual machine (VM) access via remote desktop protocols and other workloads like web applications? This was the first time I received such a request, so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore the applicable limits of  virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technologies. I saw it like an instance of the eternal dilemma between general purpose and vertical solutions, with an interesting and very modern cloud twist.

ScaleThere are several VDI solutions on the market which are quite mature. They offer many capabilities that are ready to use after installation, including connection gateways, load balancing and security mechanisms. But the risk is getting locked into a specific technology without any chance to smoothly support other scenarios. How to decide? I knew that the client wanted to have a private or hosted solution—not public—and that he wanted to have a single tool to manage these scenarios.

In order to make a decision, I carefully inspected the requirements and the use cases:

• With the VDI part of the solution, I needed to manage sets of 30 to 100 desktops with specific applications installed. I also needed to have a single server providing shared services (typically file serving) with an average lifetime of a few months—luckily the customer did not ask for this to be accessible via wireless, because the network tuning would have been very challenging!

• For the web-application side, I needed to support large web applications (about 100,000 users) for a very short time frame (one day), so elasticity, resource optimization and the specific application performance were the focus.

Instead of a VDI technology, I ended up using IBM SmartCloud Orchestrator (SCO). It uses OpenStack as the hypervisor manager, which implies the possibility to use no-VNC. I used a combination of no-VNC and remote desktop protocol to cover the spectrum of required operating systems that needed to be supported in the VDI-like scenarios. The second set of use cases was straightforward, and it was covered by the SCO features that come with the product ready for immediate use (virtual  system patterns and virtual application patterns ).

If you are curious to know how this project evolved, follow me and my colleague on Twitter: @frankpedulla and @DeGaRoss.

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