May 24 2016

Citrix XenDesktop deployment? Here is everything you need to know about Nutanix vs. Other SDS

I have recently posted the article VMware Horizon View deployment? Here is everything you need to know about Nutanix vs. Other SDS. This time around I am consolidating all the numerous reasons for using Nutanix over other SDS solutions for Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp deployments.

Customers numbers using the Nutanix platform for VDI are ever-increasing, but more and more I see business critical and life-critical organizations using Nutanix for VDI deployments. VDI has become the quintessential Tier 1 app for many organizations.

While this may seem identical to my prior article, it is not. This write-up has many of the improvements and integrations that are only available for Citrix platform and products.

As an example, both Nutanix and Citrix are pretty much the go-to-platform for Healthcare organizations looking for hyperconvergence, where having downtime even for a planned maintenance is not really an option.

Nutanix has storage enterprise features available for both Hybrid and AllFlash configurations. However, considering that XenDesktop virtual desktop will run for the most part from a single desktop image using Machine Creation Services (MCS), makes very little sense to deploy XenDesktop on an AllFlash hyperconverged solution. It is waste of $$ to achieve same or lower performance benefits, but if you like AllFlash, yes Nutanix provide the same feature set.

Let’s dive into all the awesome goodness Nutanix deliver for Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp…

 

  • Platform Services
  • Performance Optimization
  • Capacity Optimization
  • Scalability
  • Graphics Acceleration
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Security
  • Accreditations
  • Operations

 

 

Platform Services

  • Acropolis File Services with support for Citrix Profile Manager and Personal vDisks

Nutanix has a built-in technology that build File Services as an integral and native component of the Nutanix Distributed Storage Fabric, removing the need for File Server VMs, unmanaged virtual appliances (like Nexenta) or external NAS arrays, such as Netapp and EMC VNX.

AFS provides native support for Citrix Profile Manager and Personal vDisks without the requirement for external NAS or additional File Server VMs with in-guest backup agents.

Citrix Profile Manager ensures that the user’s personal settings are applied to the user’s virtual desktop and applications, regardless of the location and end point device. It auto-consolidates and optimizes user profiles to minimize management and storage requirements and requires minimal administration, support and infrastructure, while providing users with improved logon and logout.

With AFS it is possible to store Base image disks, Application data, Profile/Folders and User Data ensuring that the content is always available. Furthermore, it is possible to encrypt (FIPS 140-2 Level-2) and replicate data to multiple datacenters ensuring a consistent disaster recovery plan.

 

 

  • AHV is fully supported with Citrix XenDesktop

Nutanix Acropolis hypervisor (aka AHV) is a next generation hypervisor that seamlessly integrate with the Nutanix platform and may be used for XenDesktop deployments, eliminating the cost of the hypervisor and making VDI ROI and TCO work in your favor. Nutanix AHV is entirely supported by Citrix for many of their products, including XenDesktop and XenApp.

Download a Solution Brief here

 

 

  • XenDesktop and XenDesktop Central image management with Nutanix AcropolisMCS

Citrix and Nutanix continue working together to drive down the cost and complexity of virtual app and desktop delivery. The 7.9 release marks a key milestone in this unique partnership, now XenApp and XenDesktop can provision virtual desktops on the Nutanix Acropolis hypervisor via Machine Creation Services directly from Citrix Studio.

(image by Martijn Bosschaart)

 

 

Performance Optimization

  • Data Locality

Nutanix uses a distributed architecture that ensures that desktop data is always replicated across SSD, HDD, servers and racks at the same time for high availability. A desktop will access data from anywhere on a Nutanix cluster, but Nutanix always ensure that active data is always hosted on the server where the desktop is running. This process is transparent and occurs in the background using free CPU cycles.

Data Locality is a key performance enabler for VDI, always ensuring desktop and user data are located as close as possible to memory and CPU, avoiding multiple network hops.

 

 

  • Shadow Cloning

This is one of the most important features if you are using Machine Creating Services (MCS). Shadow Cloning intelligently analyze the desktop I/O pattern at the storage layer and identify disks shared in read only mode. When a read only disk is discovered Nutanix automatically create copies of this virtual disk for each server of the cluster guaranteeing all read I/O are local to the server where the desktop is running.

Some of the Shadow Cloning benefits are:

  1. VMware never allowed Citrix to harvest the benefits of vSphere CBRC (Content Based read cache). Shadow Clones eliminate the need for CBRC with better performance and it is not limited to 2GB RAM like CBRC.
  2. Reduced storage network overhead as read I/O is serviced locally, which ensures lowest network congestion, latency, and best performance.
  3. During boot storms, login storms and antivirus scans all data is serviced locally and NO read I/O is forced to be served by a single storage controller or server. This not only improve read performance but makes more I/O available for the write I/O operations; which are generally >=65% in VDI.
  4. The solution scale while maintaining linear application performance. Performance does not taper off at scale.
  5. When the base VM is updated, Nutanix automatically detects the change and restart the shadow cloning process.

 

 

  • Performance De-duplication

This is one of the features I like the most given the amazing performance boost. The Nutanix de-duplication engine performs inline de-duplication in the performance tiers (RAM and SSD), and post-process de-duplication of high-yield candidates in the capacity tier, optimizing across both performance and capacity tiers without impacting foreground operations.

Nutanix is a 3-tier architecture platform, and uses RAM and SSD for performance optimization. This combination provides access to constantly accessed data in terms of microseconds, instead of milliseconds when just SSD is used. This directly influence and enhances the end-user experience.

With data being de-duplicated in RAM and SSD, the virtual desktops do not have to compete for data placement in cache because desktops in a VDI environment are essentially the same and contain similar data.

In the XenDesktop context this means that desktops can be deployed without capacity or performance penalties commonly existent with other storage and hyper-converged solutions.

 

  • VMware vSphere Storage APIs – Array Integration (VAAI)vmware_vaai

VMware vSphere Storage APIs allow administrators to take advantage of the Nutanix native snapshot and cloning features within the usual administrative workflow of XenDesktop when the hypervisor in use is vSphere.

The use of this features help to reduce the time taken to provision desktops. When desktops are created the operation is offloaded to Nutanix controllers. Nutanix controllers handle operations such as snapshot creation and clone creation, drastically cutting down provisioning times and capacity requirements.

VAAI facilitate Nutanix intelligent cloning, not allowing storage controllers to process duplicate data in the first place. So based on this, desktops which are intelligently cloned are not de-duped because duplicate data is never written or processed.

 

 

Capacity Optimization

  • Capacity De-duplication (on Hybrid and All Flash)

Map Reduce technology is used for post-process de-duplication, and it enables intelligent selection of data candidates that de-duplicate well. This allow Nutanix to achieve savings without bloating metadata unnecessarily. Data candidates with low or no matches are not de-duplicated.

By avoiding metadata bloat due to non-de-dupable candidates more of the RAM and SSD resources are made available for caching, resulting in optimal use of resources in the storage controller. In effect, the Nutanix is capable of making intelligent cost-benefit decisions.

In a XenDesktop environment capacity de-duplication is mostly used when Full Clones are being manually provisioned.

If you choose to use All Flash, capacity de-duplication becomes much more important given the high $/GB price point. However, the performance benefits yielded from All Flash doesn’t usually justify the high cost to be paid given that Data Locality, Shadow Cloning, Performance De-duplication and VAAI yield a much better result on price and performance for XenDesktop deployments.

 

  • Compression (on Hybrid and All Flash)

Nutanix allow the creation of compression enabled containers, and as data is created by users and written to disks the Nutanix compression automatically compress data at the capacity tier for data that is no longer in active use. Nutanix compression increases the usable capacity across storage tiers for user data, eliminating the capacity bottleneck and effectively enabling organizations to employ persistent desktops. Tests have demonstrated capacity reduction of up to 75% for the user data footprint in VDI deployments.

 

  • Erasure Coding (on Hybrid and All Flash)

Erasure Coding (EC) is a method of data protection in which data is broken into fragments, expanded and encoded with redundant data pieces and stored across a set of different locations or storage media.

Erasure coding is extensively used in data centers since it offers significantly higher reliability than data replication methods at much lower storage overheads. Erasure coding is broadly applicable, but especially relevant in large clusters with mission critical data, opting for RF3 configured resiliency.

Erasure coding has been traditionally implemented using RAID groups on disks; however, those are commonly bottlenecked by single disk, constrained by disk geometry and generally waste space implementing hot spares. Nutanix EC is done across nodes instead of disks, optimizing availability with faster rebuilds and utilizing the entire cluster through map-reduce processes to compute block parities.

For the most part EC would not be utilized in XenDesktop deployments, unless the deployment makes use of very large full clone persistent desktops or it’s an All Flash deployment and $/GB becomes an issue.

 

 

Scalability

  • Linear and Granular Scalability

Compute and storage scale independently via the use of CPU and storage-heavy nodes in the same cluster. However, what really matters is that organizations are not required to procure infrastructure solutions on day one if the initial XenDesktop deployment is only catering for a small number of users. The Nutanix cluster will grow linearly node-by-node with predictable performance as your implementation grows overtime. This pay-as-you-grow model enables you to only pay for each individual server added to the cluster, instead of groups of servers like few other hyperconverged solutions.

 

 

 

Graphics Acceleration

  • nVidia Graphics Acceleration

VDI has become mainstream in all size organizations. Despite its successful and pervasive enterprise deployment, VDI has been unable to deliver graphics-intensive applications and services with the same level of performance as when running on physical workstations.

To address this need, Nutanix has strategically partnered with NVIDIA to broaden its VDI portfolio, and integrate cutting edge acceleration for graphics rich desktops. The NX-3175-G4 supports configurations with both NVIDIA GRID K1, K2 and Tesla GPU technology. Leveraging VMware’s SVGA driver technology along with NVIDIA GRID, the NX-3175-G4 supports multiple rendering models, including Soft 3D, vSGA and vDGA. (GPU acceleration is only available with vSphere at the moment)

 

 

Disaster Recovery

  • Full Clones

Nutanix provides native asynchronous and synchronous VM replication, automatically registering and powering-on desktops on the destination site, making them available for use on the recovery site. When the recovery event is complete Nutanix applies all data block changes back to the primary site and is able to re-initiate the desktops on the primary site.

The replication uses incremental fine-grained byte-level data transfers with intelligent data compression, eliminating network and storage resource throttle. At the end of the day this means cost and time-saving for organizations.

Nutanix enables complete fail over of VDI deployments to a secondary site and at later stage fallback with the newly generated data to the primary datacenter.

 

 

  • MCS Clones

Nutanix has the complete understanding of Machine Creation Services intricacies and is able to backup, restore and replicate MCS desktops to a secondary site. Additionally, when in recovery mode, it is possible to power on those desktops and make use of them. When the recovery event is over changes are replicated back to the primary site and life returns to normal.

Desktops are not the only resources needed when in recovery mode; you will also to replicate the supporting infrastructure. All components, if not already available in the recovery site, can also be replicated and made available for use.

 

 

Security

  • Encryption (on Hybrid and All Flash)cloud-data-protection-fips-140-2-circle-sm

Nutanix clusters are deployed in a variety of customer environments requiring different levels of security, including sensitive/classified environments. I have been part of secure VDI deployments for national agencies that required encryption, but more and more we see regular organizations considering encryption for VDI. Customers typically harden datacenters based on specific guidelines, and are mandated to procure products that have obtained industry standard certifications.

Nutanix data-at-Rest encryption satisfies regulatory requirements for government agencies, banking, financial, healthcare and other G2000 enterprise customers who consider data security products and solutions.

The data-at-rest encryption feature allow customers to encrypt storage using strong encryption algorithm and only allow access to this data (decrypt) when presented with the correct credentials, and is compliant with regulatory requirements for data at rest encryption. Nutanix data-at-rest encryption leverages FIPS 140-2 Level-2 validated self-encrypting drives, making it a future proof since it uses open standard protocols KMIP and TCG. Nutanix enable XenDesktop deployments to be end-to-end FIPS compliant.

 

  • SecDL

Nutanix has created a security development life cycle (SecDL) that addresses security at every layer in the deployment cycle, rather than applying it at the end as an afterthought. The SecDL implements security culture from top to bottom, ensuring that it is a foundational part of the design. SecDL reduces the time it takes to update code, which mitigates the risk of zero-day exploits. Security is usually the last thing to get love when your under pressure. You will ease security if you get your system to work. With SCMA you don’t have to decide between security and a working system anymore.

Nutanix provides Security Technical Implementation Guides (STIGs) that use machine-readable code to automate compliance against rigorous common standards. Today, Nutanix tracks over 1,700 security entities across storage and the Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV). With Nutanix Security Configuration Management Automation (SCMA)  you can quickly and continually assess and remediate your platform to ensure that it meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements.

 

  • Data Checksumming (on Hybrid and All Flash)

Bit rotting is the deterioration of the integrity of data stored on storage media. It is also known by the names data rot and silent corruption. Most disks, disk controllers and file systems are subject to a small degree of unrecoverable failure. With the ever-growing disk capacities, data sets, and increases in the amount of data stored in magnetic and flash media, the likelihood of the occurrence of data decay and other forms of uncorrected and undetected data corruption increases.

Every Nutanix node has a process called Stargate that amongst many other things is responsible for processing checksums. While the data is being written, a checksum is computed and stored as part of its metadata. Any time the data is read, the checksum is computed to ensure the data is valid. In the event where the checksum and data don’t match, the replica of the data will be read and will replace the non-valid copy.

Data loss prevention, protection and integrity are important considerations for those recommending or purchasing a HCI system.

 

 

Accreditations

  • Citrix Ready

Nutanix has the most comprehensive set of Citrix Ready validations, including XenDesktop and XenApp, NetScaler, Sharefile and Cloud Bridge. All validations are also applicable for Nutanix AHV.

 

  • Validations

Nutanix has the most extensive set of validations for VDI and Presentation Tiers than any other hyperconverged solution on the market. Many of the desktop application vendors running business-critical and life-critical VDI environments that require full platform validation (mostly Healthcare and Financial) will tell you that Nutanix has been tested and is approved for their applications. These critical desktop applications running on XenDesktop require state-of-art performance, integrity and availability.

 

 

Operations

  • Non-Disruptive Upgrades

Non-disruptive upgrades of the storage and hypervisor layers are integral part of how Nutanix has been built to support the most demand and business critical environments. Virtual desktops are Tier 1 applications and many organizations completely rely on them to get work done. Beyond non-disruptive storage and hypervisor, Nutanix will upgrade BIOS, BMC and Drive firmware without impact to operations.

This is a major reason why healthcare organizations and non-stop facilities choose Nutanix for their XenDesktop deployments.

 

  • Ease of Management

PRISM Central consolidates Nutanix clusters across data centers into a single intuitive user interface that combines information about sites, hosts, storage, hypervisors and virtual desktops; single-pane-of-glass to manage multiple data centers. PRISM Central provides aggregated cluster health, alerts and historical data. Administrators are effectively able to manage all Nutanix clusters from the same UI.

 

 

Conclusion

Nutanix simplifies the XenDesktop deployment process, providing better consolidation ratios, scalability, security, performance and operational management. When coupled with Nutanix AHV it is possible to seamlessly use MCS for image management and considerably drive-down costs. Nutanix customers who were commonly stuck by limitations of VDI deployment scalability have been able to quickly and easily scale their deployments unlocking the true potential of the XenDesktop and XenApp solution. There are many hyperconverged solutions on the market for you to choose from, however if you compared vendors in terms of features, benefits, stability or accreditation, I am confident that you would independently conclude that Nutanix lead the market in these areas.

 

This article was first published by Andre Leibovici (@andreleibovici) at myvirtualcloud.net

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