How county sidestepped virtual desktop storage problems

As Bartholomew County, Ind., IT staff members were deploying a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), they headed off storage bottlenecks by taking a step back to research VDI storage challenges before they became a major problem.

Data center power and cooling issues had led the county to virtualize servers several years ago. The county then moved to VDI to cut down on costs associated with updating software and maintaining desktop computers, said Jim Hartsook, IT director of Bartholomew County, located in the southeastern part of the state, with Columbus as the county seat.

Currently, 100 of the county’s 400 desktop environments are VDI-based. The entire court system, including clerks, general prosecutors and support staff, as well as several offices in the health department, are running on VDI. Plans are in the works to move another 100 desktops in various agencies to VDI by the end of 2013.

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County officials want to eliminate users being tied to desktops. “Our plan is that any non-laptop user will be on a thin client,” Hartsook said.

The county’s VDI deployment is based on Wyse Technology and Samsung zero clients using the Teradici PC-over-IP chipset. Teradici’s PCoIP protocol is a remote display technology that allows the user’s desktop operating system, applications and data to reside in the data center, eliminating the need for traditional desktop workstations, PCs and thin clients. The protocol is implemented in several software configurations, including VMware View.

“I don’t know that we ever experienced [storage] bottlenecks to the fullest extent,” Hartsook said. Once the county had 50 VDI installations deployed, Hartsook’s team did some research and found that, in many cases, when organizations reached 100 VDI deployments, users would start to complain about performance.

The county ran two EMC storage attached network systems that replicated one another. The VDI deployments were running on one of the SANs, and storage was starting to grow.

“We had a discussion about expanding storage for thin clients or migrating to other types of storage,” Hartsook said. For instance, they thought about integrating flash memory technology, a non-volatile computer storage chip that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed, to eliminate any type of bottlenecks that might arise with the expansion of users.

At a technology day sponsored by virtualization vendor VMware, the county IT staff came across Tintri, a company that offers a virtual machine-aware storage file system. The company’s VMstore lets administrators quickly see a performance and storage utilization profile on a per-VM and virtual disk basis and have visibility from the guest operating systems layer to the storage layer.

IT administrators can easily support hundreds of desktop VMs on a single three-unit appliance, with easy scalability to thousands of desktops.

Tintri lets you see what each individual VM is doing and gives you control over the virtual machine as it relates to storage, said Jenifer Slabaugh, a systems administrator with Bartholomew County.

The county is still using an EMC SAN for virtual servers but now uses Tintri for VDI storage.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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