Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Why Virtual Desktops?

Virtualization of server images began a few years ago in the x86 world. Thin client computers were introduced, but they had not been widely deployed until virtualization could occur on back end servers to reduce deployment costs. A wide variety of thin client computers, utilizing standard protocols, are now available. It’s these “stateless” thin client computers that connect to desktop operating systems that are running as virtual machines on a server. This end to end connection between the thin client and the centrally managed desktop is called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI, for short.

Traditional Management of Virtual Desktops

Using Thin Clients with VDI has some distinct operational advantages over traditional desktops:

  • The end user is no longer the primary systems administrator of their desktop operating system. This role is now a central IT mission. Fewer mistakes should be made. Instead of n number of operating variations where n is the number of end users, most of the desktop operating systems can be cloned to dramatically reduce the number of desktop permutations and resulting risks.
  • Software updates and license management are done centrally for the good of all end users. As a result, missing or delayed patch management that might result in a virus, trojan horse or worm is reduced.
  • Corporate data that is sitting on desktops can be moved back toward centralized storage management. This results in better security access control, audit, backup/recovery and disaster recovery.

But it also has some downsides:

  • The more users there are, the more hardware that is necessary to satisfy those users. Typically, 6-8 active desktops users can be provisioned per x86 core running at about 40-50% processor utilization. Multiple cores can fit in one physical server. Then additional servers, with additional environmental costs are needed – floor space, energy, cooling.
  • The more servers, the greater the complexity in recovering server images for business resilience.
  • As capacity grows, new servers may need to be deployed, further delays time to market.
  • A Desktop IT management organization may be the owner and operator of the virtual desktop servers. As a result, capacity off shift may remain idle and other servers need to be purchased to handle other business needs.
  • These thin clients may be managed within a desktop domain and not necessarily as part of an end- to-end enterprise workflow. This can and has resulted in corporate security breaches when multiple security IT teams are responsible for an end to end business transaction.

Why use z86VM to manage Virtual Desktops?

Let’s look at the downside items from above:

  • 100’s of desktop images can be operated on single IBM Z processing core. On a high end IBM zEnterprise server, over 100 processor cores is available and each can run at 100% utilization for sustained periods of time. A single IBM Z server can use the same environmental footprint or less than a single x86 server footprint.
  • IBM Z stands for zero down time. It has built in hardware redundancy to avoid over 80% of the failures that might occur in an x86 server environment. And from there, fail over to another System z server is automated through the underlying hardware and its virtualization capabilities so less effort is necessary to prepare for a non-stop operational environment. The cost of back up server capacity is dramatically reduced with IBM Z and there are no software license charges on the backup servers as the licenses are automatically transferred when the work is transferred. This alone could be a tremendous cost savings for a business.
  • Capacity can easily be added electronically to an existing IBM Z server versus waiting for new hardware installation. In addition, given the size of System z processors and their capacity, idle times for VDI can be filled with other workloads, such as batch operations, data analytics and transaction processing. This can easily be managed via Service Level Agreements and automated.
  • The operational aspects of the desktop, such as storage management, capacity management, security and business resilience can be managed in conjunction with other workloads to lower the overall IT expenditures and reduce errors that may occur when multiple IT operational domains are forced to collaborate. This becomes a natural collaboration, instead.

z86VM might not be for everyone though.

  • If you’ve never operated an IBM Z before, there will probably be some folks that say it’s too hard, too old or too much to do. Those are more opinions than facts. The modern mainframe is no longer relegated to “green screen” operations, water cooling and excessive energy. And for the capacity necessary, the Total Cost of Computing (TCO) for a net new mainframe as compared to net new PC servers can be quite competitive.
  • If you have an existing IBM Z class server, adding z86VM is pretty simple technically. But you may have a mainframe IT group and a separate desktop IT group. The Desktop IT group may want to control its own servers. Well let them, by giving them their own mainframe virtual machine from which they can manage their PC’s. The management of virtualization of the mainframe is now on par with the management of virtualization of PC servers from a skill perspective. However, the underlying virtualization capabilities of the mainframe still exceed the capabilities of virtualized PC servers when it comes to capacity planning, security management and business resilience. Collaboration between IT units will go a long way toward reducing costs and redundant or underutilized IT infrastructure.
  • The one downside may be that z86VM only supports 32-bit operating systems. For businesses that have already deployed mass quantities of 64-bit systems, the migration to z86VM may be too big of a challenge. However, for businesses with older desktops, still running 32-bit operating systems, the migration should be fairly simple as z86VM is intended to be binary compatible with those existing systems and it could be as simple as a cut and paste operating to migrate end users to z86VM.

z86VM can be competitive for Total Cost of Ownership

The combination of z86VM and IBM Z servers allows them to enter a market that they’ve never been a part of before. Most important, with the pricing available for the combined offerings and the IBM policies for pricing Capacity Backup on Demand (CBU) of their servers and software, this should be an extremely good price performing alternative to traditional PC servers.