Friday, February 26, 2010

The Future of VDI in 2010

It is doubtless there is going to be a lot of traction in the VDI arena in the coming year fuelled by Windows7 and the continued uptake of Server Virtualization. I see many POC's in process and operations asking how can VDI fit with their user demographics and business profile, and I have to admit it does make sense to least put all this on the table and at least discuss.

I see Citrix and Vmware have majority play in this arena due to the maturity, functionality and scalability of their product suites.

I do not want to get into the discussion of Terminal Server versus VDI all I will say is that I believe they have different use cases and will coexist in most environments and there will be a shift towards a true managed desktop. I have just watched some interesting interviews with the Vmware Desktop CTO Scott Davis and Citrix Desktop CTO Harry Labana on the views on the current and future road maps for both their products
They both agree that VDI is not the finished article and their will be interesting developments around client hypervisors this year.

I also agree that desktop virtualization has a lot of user interaction as opposed to server virtualization which has minimal interaction and thus creates it's own set of problems. I think for a true managed VDI desktop you will need to take a layer cake approach for the OS, Applications, User data and profiles to be truly effective but this means you need to use the likes third party products like Appsense and App-V which brings the CAPEX up considerably.

The main problem I see with Citrix Xendesktop and Vmware View is that their disk provisioning technologies (provisioning server and View composer) do not really work as they say on the tin. The main goal of these provisioning technologies are have a "Gold Image" to save disk space and make operations aligned with deployment and patching more streamlined.

Recent advancements in Vsphere with thin-provisioning at Virtual machine level make disk space less of priority and the main bugbear is as all Gold images will have a master image and linked differential file if you need to update the master image you  lose any information in the differential file as this is at block level. This can cause issues if you want a persistent image due user defined data kept in the delta file or if the master is recomposed you will see the same issues again around this data.

Brain Madden has wrote a great explanation here:

It is far simpler to either to take an one-2-one approach to your image or use non persistent "gold images" .

Let see how it things pan out this year...
Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Understanding VSS implementation in Vmware Backup and Replication products

VSS can be nightmare to fully get to grips with in Vmware backups, Scott Lowe wrote a great interpretation in his blog here. 

I would like to think I have good understanding of this so here is my view of VSS and VMware in a simplistic form.

In this example I will use Veeam utilizing the Vmware VSS provider backup on Windows 2003 running Microsoft Exchange. Ok so what is a VSS?  VSS is simply a framework that Microsoft introduced from Windows 2003/XP onwards that can coordinate with backup applications to produce a consistent and reliable copy of data, a VSS backup will be application consistent as opposed to Crash consistent, a good analogy would be to think of application consistent backup as a manual shut down of all services and then a copy and a crash consistent backup as simply to press the power off button on your server (good luck), The framework consists of 3 main components as below.
  1. Requester  Backup application (Veeam)
  2. Provider     Vmware Tools
  3. Writer        Application (Exchange)
OK so how does this fit together in the above scenario?
  1. Veeam Kicks of a backup and sends a message via the Virtual centre SDK to locate the machine and prepare for a snapshot.
  2. Virtual Center locates the machine and sends a message via the VSS provider component in Vmware tools to start the Microsoft Volume Shadow copy service. 
  3. The Microsoft Volume service will enumerate it's VSS writers and ask them to prepare for a copy backup.
  4. The Exchange VSS writer coordinate with Exchange core components and will halt I/O flush any transactions in memory and then notify the VSS provider that all is OK.
  5. Virtual Center will proceed and create a snapshot.
  6. Veeam will now have access to read only copy of the VMDK and all writes will directed to the newly created delta file.
The VSS writer is a crucial part of this framework as it crucially deals with making the data consistent, another analogy would to think of the writer as a airline pilot going though a checklists that a plane is safe to take off if anything is not OK the plane will not take off (sorry but i do like an analogy!)
so in essence if it the writer cannot hold of the I/O or quiesce the data the backup will fail.

As Scott points out in his blog the you will notice the Vmware Tools VSS provider has rightly or wrongly it has limitations in that it can only call on the VSS Copy function of the backup and this is only limited to application level in Windows 2003 as we speak, so if you run an application with a VSS writer like Exchange, AD or SQL in 2008 you will limited to a simple OS level data quiesce, and this backup will be only crash consistent at application level. This is a issue if your backup application or San based replication can only leverage the Vmware VSS provider via Virtual Centre (most do).

Some people will argue that they will run guest based backups in conjunction with image based whereby the Guest backup will have full backup VSS functionally and will also deal with tasks such as database maintenance, this is a sensible as you can also run something like Eseutil as a option, it also should be noted that if you run something like CCR or Microsoft Data Protection manager that uses log shipping, a full VSS copy backup that truncates logs will cause issues as it will fall out of sync.
So it's very much six of one and half a dozen of the other, and it is something you should give a lot of thought as with the new VStorage API's, Changed block tracking and greatly improved backup speed and functionality around Vsphere there will be a lot of focus on moving towards Image based backups.

The good news is that if you use a backup or replication application that has a propriety backup agent that can be installed within the VM and have some synergy with Virtual Center you can leverage the full VSS functionally at different levels, this will cover Windows 2008 application level quiesce and you will also be able to perform tasks such as truncation of logs, good examples of this are Veeam, Falconstor and Backup Exec 2010 and also from a SAN replication perspective NetApp and the upcoming HP Lefthand SAN/IQ 8.5.

So to sumise I think it is prudent to fully look into any solution on a ongoing basis and trial any products on POC basis if you will sleep better at night!

Friday, February 05, 2010

VMware View 4.0 SSL web access

Vmware View 4.0 is Vmware's Flagship VDI product. I like it but i think it has a long way to go before if matches the functionalty of Citrix Xendesktop it has the feel of a collection of products thrown together quickly (im thinking Thinapp, PCoIP, Propero broker).

For example one the main drivers to adopting VDI would be the mobility and fuctionality of secure web access and impoved transport and display protocols in case of Citrix Xendesktop this would be HDX-ICA, Secure Gateway and for Vmware View, Security Server and PCoIP.

How do they differ? Well if you want to use PCoIP vai a HTTP-SSL web front over the internet with VmwareView your have a problem, it's not supported, if you wish to use HTTP-SSL you will need to use RDP.
With Xendesktop you simply create a Secure gateway and you can leverage the full features of HDX-ICA via a SSL VPN

So the only option for Vmware View 4.0 is client VPN's whereby you would have direct access....see below

It appears that the PCoIP uses UDP and is not supported via View web portal per se

Come on VMware sort it out!
Monday, February 01, 2010

How to use SnapVMX to display detailed Vmware snapshot information

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