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Tools for managing the data center components behind VDI

July 19, 2011 – VDI incorporates many different parts of the data center, but the management consoles provided with VDI software don't give IT pros a way to see or manage the cogs behind the wheel -- the servers, storage and the network.

That means IT pros may waste time trying to pinpoint performance issues and troubleshooting the wrong components. There are, however, third-party tools specifically for VDI that manage the back-end components.

There are software tools for monitoring the different components of virtual desktop environments. For example, there are SolarWinds and Ipswitch for network monitoring, Zenoss for server, network and cloud monitoring, and ManageEngine, which offers asset management tools for network, desktop, server and applications.

There are also a few products that let IT pros manage all of the back-end components from one console. One is eG Innovations' VDI Monitor, which diagnoses issues and provides reports on each layer of the virtual desktop infrastructure to help with provisioning, capacity planning, compliance tracking and chargeback. Another is Xangati VDI Dashboard, a performance monitoring tool that collects and reports on all the different back-end components used in virtual desktop environments, including network, server, hypervisor and storage.

"Bringing entire desktops into the data center is a fairly new concept," said Stephane Quevillon, an engineering manager with Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), the global IT integrator. "We have all of these components that don't normally need to work together, so having a way to monitor all the different layers is critical."

Xangati VDI Dashboard

CB Richard Ellis, a Los Angeles-based real estate services firm, is 100% virtualized with VMware on both servers and desktops at its U.K. location. The company adopted Xangati's software to manage its growing VDI environment, consisting of 2,500 VMware View desktops with 2,000 more on deck.

Rory Clemens, a CB Richard Ellis virtualization architect based in the U.K., said performance problems with virtual desktop environments typically stem from the back-end infrastructure --network or storage bottlenecks or server capacity issues -- not from the VDI software itself. "But with a large VDI installation, it is difficult to determine exactly what's causing performance issues," he said. "You really need something to pinpoint the problems for you."

For example, one of CBRE's VMware View users in a remote office copying large files over a WAN connection recently caused higher than normal network I/O, impacting performance for other users. "With [Xangati], we quickly realized it was from USB traffic," Clemens said. "It was an anomaly. Knowing why the local network is swamped at any given time helps us optimize our infrastructure."

Xangati VDI Dashboard records what's happening at any given time, similar to a DVR, so desktop admins can review data from earlier times when issues occurred and see exactly what caused the issue. It also alerts admins to performance issues and identifies the problem area automatically.

Clemens uses Xangati with other management tools, such as Splunk's intelligence software , for collecting and indexing data generated by both physical and virtualized applications, servers and devices.

He said the overall cost of the Xangati software was insignificant with regard to the overall capital expenditure. "Plus, the software brings extra opex benefits around troubleshooting and reporting," he said.

Until Sept. 30, 2011, Xangati's deal for first-time customers offers Xangati VDI Dashboard for VMware View starter kit that supports up to 100 VMware View virtual desktops for $500.

eG Innovations VDI Monitor

Having a way to monitor the back-end infrastructure is particularly important for CSC because it provides tens of thousands of Citrix XenDesktop-based virtual desktops to a variety of clients through its Dynamic Desktop Services. The managed services provider uses eG Innovations VDI Monitor to manage all of the back-end components that support those virtual desktops in its own data centers and in customer data centers.

CSC's virtual desktop customers have varying workloads: one may have a hot environment with a heavy desktop load, and others have small workloads. Provisioning resources to such a mixed environment would cost hours of time without automation software, Quevillon said.

VDI Monitor lets Quevillon see through the silos to manage performance data and do capacity planning with one console.

The software is aware of all CSC's virtual desktop services and it learns the baselines resource use using historical data, so it only alerts IT when the baselines are off. It automatically correlates the alerts and measurements to let IT know if a problem on the server is critical or if it is a minor problem that doesn't impact service. "We aren't overreacting to minor problems now," Quevillon said.

Like Xangati's tool, eG's VDI Monitor diagnoses issues, so when an end user calls IT complaining about virtual desktop performance, the VDI Monitor should provide the exact cause, whether it is in the network, database, applications, storage or the virtual desktop platform itself.

Quevillon said eG's tool is relatively easy to integrate and it's scalable enough to support adding thousand of desktops without issue.

The amount of functionality in these back-end monitoring tools is a double edged sword, though-- there is so much data and so many metrics collected, it can be overwhelming, Quevillon said.

"You can get lost in the details," he said. "So, it's a good idea to build your services layer first and to focus on layer performance, so you aren't getting bogged down in details and focusing on individual components."

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- Bridget Botelho

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