VMware Partnership Opens VDI Space to Nvidia, Exec Says

Nvidia official Sanford Russell says VMware's embracing Nvidia's Grid vGPU technology brings high-performance graphics to the desktop virtualization space.

desktop virtualization

When Sanford Russell looks at the virtual desktop space, he sees a wide-open market for Nvidia.

For the past decade or so, as the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has rolled out, it was hindered by having to rely on CPUs, which offered the compute power the environments needed, but not the graphics abilities, according to Russell, director of marketing for Nvidia's Grid Business Unit.

As a result, VDI environments could handle those applications that called for solid compute performance. However, they struggled to run more graphically intensive workloads. Workers using virtual desktop solutions could not get the full PC experience.

VDI vendors like Citrix Systems and VMware "knew what the industry wanted," Russell told eWEEK in a recent interview in Boston. "They just couldn't deliver it."

That is changing, he said. More than a year ago, Nvidia and Citrix combined the capabilities of Nvidia's virtual GPU (vGPU) with Citrix's XenDesktop solution to give multiple users access to the graphics processing capabilities of single server-side GPU, enabling them to better run a broad array of graphic-intensive applications, from videos and three-dimensional CAD workloads to Microsoft's PowerPoint, Adobe's Illustrator and interactive workloads.

Now Nvidia is making another significant push into the VDI space with its expanded partnership with VMware, which Russell said owns as much as 80 percent of the hypervisor market for VDI. At the VMworld 2014 show in August, the two companies showed off a technology preview of Nvidia's Grid vGPU technology running on various VMware products.

Also at VMworld, officials with the companies joined with Google to show how the combination of VMware's Blast Performance software and Nvidia's Grid vGPU technology can be used to help expand the reach of Chromebooks into the enterprise by enabling the popular systems to better run graphics-intensive applications in desktop virtualization environments.

Nvidia and VMware have been moving in this direction for a while, according to Nvidia officials. VMware has offered graphics-accelerated virtual desktops since 2012, and March, announced support for Nvidia Grid in the company's Horizon desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) solution. At VMworld, the companies unveiled an early customer access program for Nvidia Grid vGPUs on VMware vSphere.

This month, Nvidia announced that several major companies—including Airbus Group, CH2M Hill and MetroHealth—are among the first to sign onto the early access program, testing the Grid vGPU technology in VDI environments.

"It's yet another example of why our GRID technology is changing how VDI is deployed," Andrew Cresci, general manager of Nvidia Grid, said in a post on the company blog Oct.14. "GRID delivers on the promise of instant access to powerful applications—and collaboration—on the go. And because GPUs power GRID, it delivers the visual computing muscle too often missing in the past. The big idea is to let many virtual machines share the power of a single GPU to deliver rich 3D graphics and high-performance video. With no compromises in performance."

Nvidia's Russell said businesses are anxious to take advantage of VDI to reap the benefits of the technology, from lower capital and operation expenses to greater security to easier manageability than they get with traditional PCs. It addresses such issues as disaster recovery, bring your own device (BYOD) and protection against malware, he said.

With Nvidia's Grid vGPU technology supported by both Citrix and VMware, more businesses that may have shied away from desktop virtualization because of the poor graphics capabilities now—when VMware eventually releases the next version of vSphere—will be able to embrace it, Russell said. Nvidia also is working with Red Hat in bringing Grid vGPU to the KVM hypervisor, and officials are hopeful eventually to get Microsoft on board with its Hyper-V technology, he said.

For Nvidia, the work with VMware and Citrix around Grid vGPU gives it some running room in a market that is ready for high-performance graphics capabilities. Advanced Micro Devices also supports VDI with its graphics technology. However, Russell said Nvidia's having its source code in VMware and Citrix hypervisors is a new step.

"It's completely our business," he said. "There's a ton of space for us. It's completely wide open."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to note that VMware owns about 80 percent of the hypervisor market for VDI.