It has been a long time since I posted on Nutanix as a platform for VDI. And given that many new features have been added to the platform, I decided that was time to refresh and consolidate previous articles into a single unified post.
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 solution for many organizations.
As an example, Nutanix is pretty much the go-to-platform for Healthcare organizations looking for hyperconvergence, where having downtime even for a planed maintenance is not really an option.
Nutanix has all the features available for both Hybrid and AllFlash configurations. However, considering that VMware Horizon View virtual desktop run for the most part from a single desktop image (Linked Clone Replica for Horizon View), makes no sense to deploy VDI on a AllFlash hyperconverged solution. It is waste of $$ to achieve same or lower performance and benefits, but if you like AllFlash, yes Nutanix provide the same feature set.
Let’s dive into all the awesome goodness Nutanix deliver for VMware Horizon View…
- Platform Services
- Performance Optimization
- Capacity Optimization
- Graphics Acceleration
- Disaster Recovery
- Acropolis File Services with support for VMware Horizon
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.
VMware User Environment Manager (UEM) is used to manage Windows and application settings across virtual desktops and operating systems. UEM allows application settings to dynamically roam between virtual desktops and RSDH published applications.
The UEM profile-archive share is used to store personal settings for all users. The personal user settings are read from this share at login or at application start, and are written back at application exit or at logout.
AFS provides native support for UEM without requirement for external NAS solutions or additional File Server VMs, yet making the content available to multiple sites for DR purposes.
- 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 and VMware AppVolumes
This is one of the most important features if you are using Linked Clones. Shadow Cloning intelligently analyze
the desktop I/O pattern at the storage layer and identify disks shared in read only mode (Linked Clone Replica). 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.
Shadow Cloning is also a key performance enabler for application virtualization solutions such as VMware AppVolumes, making it even faster and more predictable when running on Nutanix.
Some of the Shadow Cloning benefits are:
- Nutanix does not require VMware’s CBRC (Content Based read cache) and is not limited to 2GB RAM like CBRC.
- Reduced storage network overhead as read I/O is serviced locally, which ensures the lowest network congestion and latency; and best performance.
- 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.
- The solution scale while maintaining linear application performance. Performance does not taper off at scale.
- When the base image 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 Horizon View context this means that desktops can be deployed without capacity or performance penalties commonly existent with other storage and hyper-converged solutions.
- View Composer Array Integration (VAAI)
VCAI is part of the vSphere vStorage APIs for Array Integration stack and allow administrators to take advantage of the Nutanix native snapshot and cloning features within the usual administrative workflow of Horizon View with View Composer.
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.
- VMware Horizon View 6 – Impact of VCAI
- Is VAAI beneficial with Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) based solutions?
- 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 Horizon View environment capacity de-duplication is mostly used when Full Clones are being deployed. By default Nutanix will de-duplicate only the initial 22GB of each virtual disk – this is the OS disk and where common files are for the most part.
[Update] As of 4.6.1 there is not limit and the full disk can be deduped.
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 normally justify the high cost to be paid given that Data Locality, Shadow Cloning, Performance De-duplication and VCAI yield a much better result on price and performance for Horizon View 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 they offer 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 spared. 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 will be utilized in Horizon View deployments, unless the deployment make use of very large full clone persistent desktops or it’s an All Flash deployment and $/GB becomes an issue.
- 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 Horizon View 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.
- 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, as well as Teradici PCoIP APEX cards. Leveraging VMware’s SVGA driver technology along with NVIDIA GRID, the NX-3175-G4 supports multiple rendering models, including Soft 3D, vSGA and vDGA.
- Full Clones
Nutanix provides native asynchronous and synchronous VM replication, automatically registering and powering-on desktops on the destination vCenter, making them available for use in the recovery site. When the recovery event is complete Nutanix start to apply 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.
- Linked Clones
Nutanix has the complete understanding of Horizon View Composer intricacies and is able to backup, restore and replicate Linked Clone 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 need Connection and Security Servers, Active Directory, SQL or Oracle Databases. All components, if not already available in the recovery site, can also be replicated and made available for use.
- Encryption (on Hybrid and All Flash)
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 Horizon View deployments to be end-to-end FIPS compliant.
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.
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 VMware Horizon View require state-of-art performance, integrity and availability.
- 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 Horizon View 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.
Nutanix simplifies the VMware Horizon View deployment process, providing better consolidation ratios, scalability, security, performance and operational management. 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 VDI 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 leads the market in these areas.
Despite working for Nutanix today, I would still recommend the Nutanix platform even if I was still working for the VMware EUC CTO Office. That was the original reason why I left VMware to join Nutanix – being the best solution for VMware Horizon View deployments.
In a next article I will talk about the benefits for Citrix XenDesktop.
This article was first published by Andre Leibovici (@andreleibovici) at myvirtualcloud.net