In today’s article, I will be highlighting eG Enterprise’s monitoring capabilities for Amazon’s AWS NICE DCV VDI protocol that was used first in Amazon’s AppStream 2.0 and now subsequently also in WSP 2.0 for the Amazon WorkSpaces service for digital workspaces.

Update 17/Nov/2022: Since writing this article Amazon have published additional information on the new features now GA available with WSP 2.0 powered by the NICE DCV technologies, see: Amazon WorkSpaces announces version 2.0 of WorkSpaces Streaming Protocol.

What is the NICE DCV Protocol?

Amazon themselves describe NICE DCV concisely as: “NICE DCV is a high-performance remote display protocol that provides customers with a secure way to deliver remote desktops and application streaming from any cloud or data center to any device, over varying network conditions. With NICE DCV and Amazon EC2, customers can run graphics-intensive applications remotely on EC2 instances, and stream their user interface to simpler client machines, eliminating the need for expensive dedicated workstations. Customers across a broad range of HPC workloads use NICE DCV for their remote visualization requirements. The NICE DCV streaming protocol is also utilized by popular services, like Amazon Appstream 2.0, AWS Nimble Studio, and AWS RoboMaker.

How the NICE DCV VDI protocol works

How the Nice DCV VDI protocol works

NICE DCV is a mature, efficient, and sophisticated remoting protocol providing comparable functionality to other high-end protocols, such as Citrix EDT/HDX/ICA, and standalone Teradici PCoIP Ultra. Provided by Amazon themselves, there is no additional charge to use NICE DCV on Amazon EC2. You pay only for the EC2 resources you use to run and store your workloads and can avoid the need for a third-party high-end protocol unless you have particularly niche graphics requirements.

NICE DCV includes key enterprise features including:

  • Audio codecs and technologies
  • USB device support for 3D pointing devices, Space mice, and similar
  • Graphics tablet and stylus support with pressure sensitivity
  • File transfer protocols
  • Printing support
  • Smart card support
  • Session to client cut-n-paste support and control
  • Native clients can support two monitors at 4K resolution each

Recent Enhancements to NICE DCV

In Nov 2020 Amazon released major improvements for NICE DCV, including significant performance optimizations for high-frame usage typically associated with GPU accelerated VMs, followed in June 2021 by significant improvement to audio-visual synchronization. I’ve been writing for a long while about the lack of attention to the problems of audio synchronization to graphics in the protocol market; not only does it plague video calls, but it’s also a major obstacle to wider adoption by high-end graphics users, such as those involved in VFX (Visual Effects) pipelines and editing workflows in particular. All of these developments now put Amazon in an excellent place to cater to the needs of demanding graphics users, as well as 3D and CAD ISVs customers who care about the performance, availability, and reliability of their applications.

NICE DCV for AppStream 2.0 and Amazon WorkSpaces

NICE DCV is well established as the protocol supporting Amazon’s popular AppStream 2.0 streaming service, often leveraged by ISVs such as Siemens to deliver CAD/3D apps as SaaS. Historically, Amazon has used an alternative proprietary protocol WSP (WorkSpaces Streaming Protocol) for their digital workspace offering Amazon WorkSpaces. We previously wrote about the differences between the protocols in Amazon AppStream 2.0 vs Amazon WorkSpaces.

However, in recent weeks, Amazon has announced support for Ubuntu and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) virtual desktops with NICE DCV being used as the underlying protocol for WSP 2.0. This makes a lot of sense as NICE DCV was always designed with features capable of supporting very demanding 3D Graphical users and CAD/CAE/AEC, VFX, and Oil & Gas type applications – the very type of applications that are often available for a high-end Linux OS such as Ubuntu and RHEL. Indeed, Ubuntu and RHEL are two of the few formally supported Linux OSs available with support from NVIDIA for their vGPU/GRID technologies enabling virtualized GPUs for graphically and computationally intensive applications.

In recent days, Amazon has announced new versions of Amazon WorkSpaces leveraging WSP 2.0 (i.e. NICE DCV); see October 26th, 2022 announcements for some nice new feature details: Amazon WorkSpaces Web Access for WSP now includes 7 new features, including bi-directional audio/video. This essentially means Amazon is consolidating on NICE DCV technology via WSP 2.0, with the original WSP 1.0 likely to be retained and used for legacy use cases (probably older end-point clients and compliant industries where change control is regulated).

Amazon provides a number of GPU enabled virtual machine (VM) instance families for EC2, suitable for high-end graphics with NVIDIA GRID Virtual Applications, such as the G3, G4dn, and G5 instances. AWS also leverage AMD’s GPU virtualization technologies available within cost-effective AWS Instance families such as the G4ad.

Historically, NICE DCV had limited functionality in the availability of performance metrics and monitoring APIs for 3rd party vendors. This is changing, and eG Enterprise is now leveraging new metrics made available by Amazon via supported APIs. We believe we are one of the first enterprise platforms to commit to and make available NICE DCV support.

Monitoring Metrics for NICE DCV

NICE DCV VDI Protocol metrics in Amazon dashboard

Nice DCV metrics in the Amazon console

Protocol performance and optimization is critical for ensuring a high-quality digital user experience (DEX). Protocols themselves consume resources, particularly when leveraging compression codecs such as H.265 and H.264 when GPU and CPU resource is consumed for encode and decode. Additionally, protocols such as NICE DCV adapt their behavior to perform optimally based on resources available (particularly bandwidth).

eG Enterprise provides similar metrics to those available via the native NICE DCV console, to enable these metrics to be correlated, monitored, and reported on alongside all other application and infrastructure metrics, events, logs, and traces that impact user experience and application performance or availability. NICE DCV metrics are reported for each and every user session for Amazon AppStream 2.0 and Amazon WorkSpaces (using WSP 2.0). Out-of-the-box alerting is configured to ensure issues with frame rates (FPS), Network Latency, and Bandwidth trigger alerts and are identified to administrators and help desk staff within a simple to use GUI.

Moreover, the powerful AIOps engine within the eG Enterprise platform allows for automated baselining and anomaly detection as it learns about the normal usage of the AWS services. Live and historical reporting is built into the platform allowing administrators to understand protocol usage across hosts and users, including the long-term trends and usage patterns needed for cost optimization and effective capacity planning.

Key metrics from NICE DCV are available in eG Enterprise alongside other measures of user experience and activity collected from the broader digital workspace landscape, including the “User Input Delay” and latency metrics of the VM.

eG Enterprise includes monitoring and reporting for all other major remoting protocols including VMware Blast Extreme, Teradici PCoIP, Citrix HDX / ICA / EDT and Microsoft RDS / RemoteFX.

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