By: Frank Ohlhorst dnu
Virtual desktop infrastructure products are marketed on the promise that they will eliminate many of the desktop deployment and management headaches administrators struggle with on a daily basis. However, VDI comes with its own set of challenges, often proving to be expensive, complex to deploy and hard to manage-all of which threatens to eliminate the technology's anticipated benefits.
Kaviza is seeking to bring VDI benefits to fruition with Version 3.1 of its VDI-in-a-Box applicance, which it says greatly simplifies the installation and provisioning of VDI without harming the inherent flexibility of VDI-powered desktops. I took Kaviza's VDI-in-a-Box product for a test drive to see if it could deliver on the original promise of VDI, making things simpler for administrators, while still providing an acceptable end-user experience and ultimately saving money.
Kaviza does an excellent job of covering the basics of VDI, making it easy for administrators to deploy and end users to access. However, there is room for improvement-better real-time monitoring, for example, would benefit administrators by eliminating the need for third-party asset management tools.
Also, the licensing of operating systems and applications can be somewhat complicated, but that is more a reflection of software vendors' antiquated licensing policies than a problem with Kaviza. For those looking to deploy VDI in manageable stages over time, Kaviza may prove to be the right answer, thanks to the product's dynamic grid and ease of template management.
Testing Kaviza VDI
The first step with Kaviza's VDI-in-a-Box comes down to planning: planning what equipment to use, the size of your deployment, what hypervisor to use and what operating systems to deliver as virtual PCs to the users. The planning process with Kaviza proves to be much simplier than with other VDI solutions because Kaviza differs greatly from traditional VDI. Kaviza uses a consolidated virtual software appliance and direct-attached storage as opposed to requiring connection brokers, load balancers, management and compute servers, and shared storage.
Kaviza offers a great deal of support and documentation that helps with planning. The primary starting point comes down to a major decision on what hypervisor to use: VMware's ESX/ESXi or Citrix's XenServer (Hyper-V support is expected in the near future). Kaviza takes an agnostic approach to the hypervisor, so you can use one that best suits your needs. In my case, I went with XenServer, simply because the free version of XenServer proved to have a little more management flexibility than VMware's ESXi. However, if I were paying for the hypervisor, I would have probably picked VMware to take advantage of many of the advanced management capabilities packed into ESX.
Another important choice is the server hardware, which has to accommodate the number of active users on the system. Kaviza supports dynamic scaling, allowing you to add more servers to the Kaviza environment-the company calls that a "grid," where a grid comprises multiple servers that can allocate users based upon server availability, load balancing rules and physical user assignments.
For my test environment, I used an HP ProLiant ML300 series server that was equipped with a pair of quad-core Xeon processors and 16GB of RAM. I planned to test Kaviza with a total of six virtual desktops, four running Windows XP and two running Windows 7 Ultimate Edition. Although that was a rather small test deployment (Kaviza is designed to scale to hundreds of users), it did allow me to exercise the primary features of the product.